My essay last week on plotting vs. spontaneous writing generated a lot of debate online (See Plot vs. Pants). It also raised a deeper question for me about ideas and inspiration; how much inspiration does a writer need to start creating a novel?
In the Beginning
The start of my own creative process is a mental Frankenstein. It could start with from a book, movie or video game (See Bloody Inspiration Film, Graphic Novels and Books). Then add in something that I haven’t seen that I’d like to create. Throw in a real world issue that catches my eye and season it with my own philosophical perspective. Bake for several days or weeks and presto…I’ve got my inspiration.
For example, my next novel Smooth Operator is definitely a cobbled together concept. Books like Rain Fall and 100 Bullets inspired the tone and the characters. My own interest in corporate spy companies and new forms of organized crime channeled my focus. The tactics and world view of Robert Greene and Machiavelli rounded out the message to create the Life and Crimes of Warren Baker.
But I don’t start writing a novel with just an idea. I spend some time developing it into a story. I imagine the beginning, the middle and the end (actually, the process works better when I think up the end, the beginning and the middle). I look at the characters, including their motivations, conflicts and resources. I cut the story into acts, the acts into chapters and the chapters into beats. I get a feel for the genre, setting, time period and the duration of the story. If all the idea can remain viable after it goes through that plotting process, then I start writing my novel. If not, it goes into the idea file to be played with at a later date.
Are Six Words Enough?
Writers who plot might recognize some of their own method in the process I described. But what happens if a writer creates by the seat of their pants? Several writers have told me that they follow an idea and start writing to see where the idea takes them. How much of an idea gets them going? Is it a detailed nightmare or a recurring dream? Is it a photo in a magazine or an overheard conversation? Is it a character imagined over time or a phrase as simple as a woman walks into a bar? I know ideas can’t be measured like pounds of chocolate or gallons of whiskey, but I am intrigued to find out if spontaneous writers have a threshold of inspiration that guides them to creativity.
Can you share your idea to writing process? If so, please feel free to share.