Monday, November 14, 2005

Where the wild stories are

Stephen King has said that when people ask him where he gets his stories, he tells them about a factory somewhere in Oklahoma. Jennifer Crusie talks about the "girls in the basement" sending up ideas. Other people also refer to girls in the basement--maybe even before I heard Ms. Crusie do it. Some call it the "collective unconscious" or "the well."

I have a swamp. It bubbles and oozes. There are alligators. Things rot in there. They ferment. And every so often, something will come bubbling up to the top. I grab it out with this hook thingie and look it over. Sometimes it's ready. Sometimes I have to toss it back in the swamp to bubble some more. Sometimes I even have to jump up and down on it to make it go back under because I don't have time right now for whatever it is under all that ooze.

Yes, I realize this is kind of an icky metaphor for my subconscious, and that I am probably strange to visualize it this way. But hey, I'm a writer. (And I write that weird fantasy stuff.)

What about you? Where do you get your stories? A factory? A basement? A swamp? Or someplace else, perchance? Or are you more normal than some of us and haven't ever seen what the place looks like...?

10 comments:

Sue-Ellen Welfonder said...

Excellent topic and really good visual re story ideas, Gail! My inspiration comes from atmospheric places. More specifically from atmospheric places in Scotland. Not surprising since I write Scottish medievals and Scottish-set paranormals. But even before I started writing, it has always been 'atmosphere' that moves me most deeply. And the books I have always loved best have been ones steeped with a rich sense of place. But, truly, I have a theory that story ideas find us, rather than the other way around. I know that when I am in Scotland and exploring places that are not only rich in the history I love and appreciate, but also heart-stoppingly beautiful and hauntingly evocative, it can often seem as if the past is still there, just thrumming beneath the surface and waiting to be appreciated - by the right writer! It is almost impossible to walk about in such places and not sense the past all around you, 'feel' the people who once lived and breathed there. Such a place may now have just a jumble of stones where walls once stood, but I believe the past lingers on in such places and that people with open hearts might just pick up threads of what once was. And when that happens, the magic and romance of the Highlands (or anywhere in Scotland, really) can come to life for me and a story idea will catch and bloom. From that point on, it is the hero who dominates for me. He always appears first - but only after I have walked in his footsteps and fallen in love with the land he once called his own. So, for me, it is always the setting first. The atmosphere that fires my ideas and keeps me at the keyboard.

Candice Gilmer said...

My muses are basically brats... they give me stuff when they want to, and when they feel like it.

I always used the analogy that I'm a reciever, and my muses (there are three, and they are stubborn, just like me) sit in a radio station broadcasting stuff to me. Course, the station isn't always working full time. They have to do repairs and stuff, but when it is, I'm the reciever, my hands the speakers, and my computer the listener on the other end... enjoying (I hope) everythign im transmitting.

It's late... I'm on benadryl, I hope that makes sense

gailbarrett said...

I'm a lot like Sue-Ellen. I always get these feelings. It's a very strong sense of melancholy, an urgency that something needs to be expressed. Often it is tied to a place or an image. Setting is hugely important to me because it evokes the mood. It takes me longer to figure out who the characters are that are in the story. So, first I get the mood, then often the theme, and lastly the people. It seems as if it would be easier if it happened the other way around, but I can't control it. Listening to music often prods the feeling, but I can't seem to rush the process at all. I don't really think I can control it, so I like Crusie's vision of girls in the basement sending things up. In my case, though, it's more like smoke signals or something very vague and wispy that they are sending. It's pretty hard to decipher.

JoAnn Ross said...

Ooh, an alligator infested swamp is way more interesting than my subconscious, which resembles one of those toddler's pop pop push toys, with all the brightly colored balls jumping around beneath the plastic dome. Every so often I'll pluck out one of those balls and it'll be the start of my story. Like Gail and Sue-Ellen, I usually begin with setting, because I'm a strong proponent of setting as character. The next ball will typically be theme. (I'm big on redemption.) Then the actual characters. Plot is always last and often the most difficult for me to find, especially with my characters all the time insisting, "Plot? What plot? We don't need no stinking plot!" LOL

I do have muses in the basement, but they're usually cranky and in terminal PMS, so I can't depend on them overly much. Having said that, they do occasionally surprise me with a full blown story, with dialogue and everything. That's happened nine times out of some 90+ books, so I suppose that makes them helpful about 10% of the time.

Nancy Morse said...

I get story ideas anywhere and everywhere. Once I had a really neat title and built my story around that. When I was a kid, my parents took me to an amusement park and I built another story around the carousel. It's not hard finding snippets of interesting stuff all over the place. The hard part is turning those snippets into a plot that someone would actually want to read.

Terry Z McDermid said...

An interesting topic. I started thinking about when and where my ideas really come to me. I've tried different methods but the truth is, most of my ideas tend to come through 'hydrotherapy,' that moment when you're standing in the shower, rinsing the shampoo out of your hair. An idea rushes in, almost as if it were waiting for the clutter of my life to be washed away. Scenes, settings, characters, dialogue. . . all start filtering into my brain. Sometimes I think it's because I don't wear my glasses or contacts in the shower, my vision is somewhat fuzzy on the outside but inside my head, my other world is going on.

Of course, then I usually have to rush to work and it takes energy to keep the story percolating until I'm able to at least jot down some of the ideas. The flipside is that if I do get stuck, a nice hot shower can start the ideas flowing again (look at all those water metaphors! Can you tell I miss the ocean in the landlocked midwest?)

Allison Brennan said...

Oooo, Gail, our muses are quite similar. My ideas simmer in a crock pot *g*

I usually start with a situation or a character, and sometimes both. I'm usually inspired by a combination of news stories, often completely unrelated.

I'm with JoAnn--plot? What's that? My plot stems directly from my characters actions and reactions. Sometimes, I need to throw those characters into the crock pot when the book is half-cooked and wait a few weeks before they tell me what they're going to do next. They can be SOOOOO annoying sometimes.

Shanon Donnelly said...

The shower -- something to do with ions in the water, I think. Or just all that steam...hmmm, steam, steamy, maybe. Good things happen in a shower. Very good things if you're lucky.

Cars are also good places -- not stuck in traffic, but on the road moving between places.

Gardens are also good places to go -- there's a reason they call them garden plots.

Candice Gilmer said...

Karaoke bars too... For some reason, my muses call me in the karaoke bar... I think it's the chaos, myself... but I find myself doodling on tons and tons of napkins in teh bar...

Gail Dayton said...

Oh this is so much fun. I love your visuals and everything. The radio broadcast booth sounds so cool--so does the popper toy, and the crock pot, and ... you know, it just might be something in the water...

Now, if I can just make it bubble up the right stuff at the right moment... I know what my option book is. I have the characters. I have no plot--and for someone who tends to write plot-heavy books, that can be a bit nervewracking, but ... it'll come. The alligators have had some juicy bits lately...