Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Whither comes the muse? Or “capere musam”.

by Rick Blechta

Funny that Aline would be planning on writing her blog post on the same topic I was planning to use. Since we’re both discussing muses, perhaps we have the same one – or maybe our separate ones are colluding.

Where do ideas come from? While the arts (writing, music, dance, drama, painting, etc.) are all very different, they do share one commonality: they require an initial idea to get started on a new work.

I’m sure every writer of fiction has been faced with the dilemma of “characters in search of a story”. I certainly have. If you write a series as many crime writers do, you face this at the beginning of any new book. For those of us who write one-offs, it’s not as common, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens to most. (It’s always much easier to be confronted with a story in search of characters.)

And that’s where the muses come in, as Aline so ably described yesterday. Where do these ideas come from? It can be from an otherwise unremarkable conversation, perhaps even an eavesdropped one (happened to me in my third novel). It can be something you read or even witnessed. Sometimes an idea just comes out of the blue. Or a serendipitous encounter.

To me, those are the most fascinating. In my novel, When Hell Freezes Over, the genesis of the story came to me as I was driving home from a gig late one night.

Snow, whipped around by a stiff wind, made visibility poor and I sighed as I stopped, the lone car at a light.

A tap on the passenger window startled me. A young woman stared me in the face, so I rolled down the window.
“I need a ride. I have no money and I need to get home. Can you help?”

I almost said, “Sure. Hop in!” before an alarm bell clanged in my head. I would be alone in my car with someone I didn’t know and who might not have the best of intentions.

Instead, I asked, “Where are you heading?”

She gave me her destination, rather far out of my way. Should I take a chance to help a fellow person? All I had was a couple of twenty-dollar bills, no change, so I wouldn’t get off financially easily, but I decided to give her money rather than taking a risk.

“I’m headed in the opposite direction. Here’s a twenty. Take the bus and then a taxi to get home.”

She took it gratefully. Perhaps I’d just been scammed, but I hoped I hadn’t.

Regardless, the light had by now changed and I took off.

It hit me about 3 minutes later: if instead of tapping on the window, what if the girl had just gotten into my car? What would I have done? The answer was pretty clear. I probably would have been stuck driving her to her destination – if everything had gone okay.

A myriad of other possibilities flooded my brain, none of them good. Before I got home, I had the beginning scene in the book I was going to write and a solid idea of where it would take the story.

The next morning I realized another thing: I had just paid a paltry $20 for a terrific idea around which I could craft an entire novel.

Now regardless of being scammed or not, that’s money well spent, isn’t it?

1 comment:

Eileen Goudge said...

Money well spent indeed! If she knew she'd sparked an idea for a book, she might ask a cut of your royalties :)