Friday, September 02, 2005
Ideas that Die
After finishing the revisions on TDD, I've been taking a break. The idea was to get a few short stories written, and to generally do a lot of "in-take" (a.k.a. reading.) It's time now to get back to novel writing, and I find I've completely forgotten how. Actually, I should also say that during this hiatus I managed not to get much done in terms of short story writing, either. I think part of the problem is that, with the short stories, I've been attempting to write to market -- something I very rarely do. While looking for a market for existing stories of mine, I came across John Scalzi's call for submissions for his themed issue of Subterranean Magazine. He's looking for stories, as he puts it in his guidelines, which feature "Big Honkin' Science Fiction Cliches." For some reason that idea totally appealed to me, especially when I followed some of his links to lists of SF cliches. I started a story about the last man on earth, but I haven't gotten farther than a few paragraphs. I guess the idea didn't quite grab me as much as I thought. Also, as most writers know, it's one thing to get fired up about an idea, and another thing to craft a living, breathing, publishable short story out of one. The other market I got interested in submiting to was Lynne Jamneck's Erotic Lesbian Science Fiction Anthology. Part of the appeal of that one was that I was thinking that I could set a short story in a world I used to write in. I have another great idea, which even satisfies the guidelines request that "both the erotic an science fiction aspect are crucial." But, once again I find myself writing a few lines and then petering out. This is one of the great mysteries of writing, as far as I'm concerned. The few short stories that I've sold, all came to me in a flash and were written quickly (albeit over the course of a few weeks, but the words poured out without much struggle.) The stories I've finished but haven't sold were written with more struggle. And, then there's the multitude of Ideas that Died. Half the storage space in my fiction directory is full of these half-starts. Some of them are several pages long. Some, when I open them again, I diddle a few more lines on to them, but they never seem to light a spark under me for whatever reason. Why do some stories spring from my head like Athena, fully-grown? And why do some of my "coolest" ideas fail to germinate? Well, let's think about that. Obviously, one of the issues is what I mentioned earlier. Ideas do not a complete story make. Ideas and characters sometimes aren't even enough. Let me think back to one of my most successful stories. The idea, world, main character and basic conflict hit me one day after talking about the idea with a writer friend of mine over lunch. I started writing that afternoon and had a completed draft by the end of the week. I don't remember having a clear idea about the ending, but I did have a strong sense of conflict and world. Maybe those are the crucial items for me. If I have a conflict, the resolution comes over the course of writing the story. If I know the world I'm writing in, the story begins to feel alive. I think, as a writer, part of what gets me going is having something to say. Theme, I guess. I know for a fact the story I'm referring to above, had a strong, definite theme. I had something I wanted to say about a certain segment of the population. I had a gripe with an ex that needed airing. But, that's not always true. I have written published stories that didn't have that thematic fire in the belly. I can think of one, my first published story, which really was just a cool idea. Of course, it was flash fiction, so maybe that was part of it. I don't know. This mystery is probably deeper than I can handle in a single blog.