So where do ideas for a story come from? An event you witness? An overheard conversation? A dream? Or is there, perhaps, a parallel world of Imagination where a characters reside, their exploits and adventures leaking into our Universe via a sort of telepathic mind-link?
Far-fetched? Yes maybe, but ask any author where a certain powerful scene originated from and I bet they’ll answer, “I don’t know, it just came.” There are scenes in my books that I have no recollection of writing – and I occasionally find my male protagonists suddenly immersed in dangerous scrapes, and then relying on me to get them out of it (thanks guys). And what about the stories that, before you know it, have gone off at a completely different tangent to the one you’d planned out?
Writing a novel is a bit like going off into uncharted waters. You know your starting point, you know the end point (probably), and have a vague idea of a mid-way encounter. The rest is a bit like they used to put on the old maps to indicate unexplored territory: “Here Be Dragons” (In some cases for fantasy writers – literally!
One of my novels, Harold The King (UK edition title) / I Am The Chosen King (US edition title) was launched because of a dream. A very vivid one which I can still remember to this day, although I must have had it at least sixteen or seventeen years ago now. I had already been toying with the idea of writing a novel about the people and events that led to one of the most famous dates in English history – 1066, The Battle of Hastings. I had done a bare minimum of research to ascertain if the idea was viable – and did I want to write it – then I had the dream.
I saw a river meandering through a broad valley. Reeds and bulrushes lined the banks, dragonfly wings sparkled their rainbow colours. Four men were riding along the river-side path. I saw them very clearly, down to the minutest detail of their clothes, their weapons, their horses’ harness – yes these men were from the past, Anglo-Saxons. (Don’t ask how I knew that, I just did.) There was an older man and his three sons. Two of the sons, the eldest and the youngest, were arguing. Their dogs raced off after some ducks… the arguing continued, inane bickering, nothing serious, but these brothers were always at odds with each other. I heard every word. Their father told them to stop quarreling: they ignored him. I knew, somehow, that this was the River Lee and the Lea Valley near where Waltham Abbey in Essex now stands.
The third brother was riding quietly, his hands light on the reins, his stallion, unlike his brothers’ horses not tossing its head or dripping sweat in agitation. This man was looking across a river at a girl hiding beneath the trees. Even at that distance, and the fact that they did not know each other there was a spark – that ‘love at first sight’ thing.
The men rode on and I saw the girl running up a steep-incline meadow, hurrying to get home. The sun was shining on her blonde hair, a huge dog was running beside her, and her cloak – a bright, kingfisher blue – was fluttering in the wind.
I woke, knew instantly that the men were Earl Godwin of Wessex and his sons, Swegn and Tostig, who were always arguing, and Harold, the future King of England who would die on a battlefield seven or so miles from Hastings. The girl was Edith Swanneck – Edith the Fair, who was to become his common-law wife and the mother of his children. The entire dream, scene for scene, word for word, became the second chapter of the novel.
I thought up the entire plot for Sea Witch while walking on a beach in Dorset, England. It was the last day of our vacation and it was drizzling with rain. I sat on a rock looking at the dull, grey, English Channel and imagined the blue warmth of the Caribbean, (good imagination eh?) I had my plot, my minor characters, even my ship (Sea Witch) but not my pirate charismatic charmer of a rogue hero. I looked up – and there he was standing a few yards away in full piratical regalia, complete with hat, coat, boots, cutlass and pistol. In his hair fluttered lengths of blue ribbon, from his ear dangled a gold acorn-shaped earring. He nodded, touched a finger to his hat in salute.
“Hello Jesamiah Acorne,” I said.
Of course other parts of a story to spark an idea for a scene come from dogged hard work in the guise of research – be it for historical fiction, murder mysteries, adventures or even romance. The details have to be uncovered, the little facts which make a story sound and feel real investigated. Facts for historicals are an obvious necessity; for thrillers the right type of gun or pathology methods. Romance: no good having your dashing hero illicitly picking roses from the park for his sweetheart if the season is early March when only the daffodils are in bloom.
I find my ideas come to me while in the shower, or in the early hours of the morning when everyone else is abed. Obviously running water has an effect of sparking that spark (or maybe manufacturers include large doses of ‘Imagination Booster’ in the shower gel soap?).
As for the early-hour mind-visits, well that one is clear. Because everyone else is asleep there’s more imagination whizzing around in the ethos looking for a fertile mind to land in. All you have to do is sit quiet, listen carefully and grab it as it shoots past…. Oh, and then write it down before you forget it.
Helen’s Author Page on an Amazon near you : viewAuthor.at/HelenHollick