The Origin Of An Idea, Part 2: Inspiration, Execution And A New Synthesis

Another week rolls around and this time I’ve been getting over that hump a little more every day, reliving some of those early moments in my own work that make me smile or give me a tiny ego boost. As I move through it I am also well aware of just what has inspired many of the ideas, characters and situations, and by a strange coincidence I came across one that was in an old comic book I found stashed away. Somehow the busty thief had been the inspiration for one of my own characters.

Yet where does one draw the line of plagiarism? Is it alright to use an idea that you found elsewhere? This is a thorny issue for sure, and it perhaps applies to many of the arts. Certainly in the realms of music there is a great debate about who copies who, who is inspired by who, about whether you can claim something as your own if you sample etc.

And just as a musician will be an avid listener of music, so too are writers avid readers. I can claim to have read a huge amount of sci-fi and fantasy, as well as a lot of non-fiction – politics, anthropology, science etc. Out of all of that I reaped many, many ideas that stuck with me, that I liked and thought about, situations in novels that touched me or thrilled me, characters and settings that could be explored in so many different ways there isn’t enough time in one life.

I would argue that at some point we all reach a form of critical mass, where everything that we’ve absorbed goes into the melting pot of our imaginations. There’s so much in there it all becomes indistinguishable from its original source, and as you write it comes out via the filter of you as a person, thus rendering it in your own voice. You are the lens that casts what came before into a new light: you create a synthesis which transcends any one thing of itself. This is what I refer to in the title as execution. How you execute the story, how you take all that was familiar, used up and done before and make it special. Take as an example Pulp Fiction, a movie that contains plenty of familiar characters from the pulp world of crime stories. I found this little snippet on Wikipedia:

Tarantino explains that the idea “was basically to take like the oldest chestnuts that you’ve ever seen when it comes to crime stories—the oldest stories in the book…. You know, ‘Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife’—the oldest story about…the guy’s gotta go out with the big man’s wife and don’t touch her. You know, you’ve seen the story a zillion times.”[8] “I’m using old forms of storytelling and then purposely having them run awry”, he says. “Part of the trick is to take these movie characters, these genre characters and these genre situations and actually apply them to some of real life’s rules and see how they unravel.”[55] In at least one case, boxer Butch Coolidge, Tarantino had in mind a specific character from a classic Hollywood crime story: “I wanted him to be basically like Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer in Aldrich‘s Kiss Me Deadly [1955]. I wanted him to be a bully and a jerk”.[25]

What makes this movie so great was its execution – the unforgettable dialogue and the manner in which the movie was put together, the way the threads intertwine with each other. It takes what’s been done before (hitmen, crime bosses, a boxer reneging on thrown fight etc) and creates a new synthesis that transcends the original ideas into something special. Hopefully this is what we can achieve as writers, taking ideas that appeal to us, that inspire us or stick in our minds and forge them into something new and special.



The Origin Of An Idea, Part 1: Dreams

Do you ever lie down to sleep and suddenly you find your brain turning something over and over, and you get that idea that you either say you’ll write down in the morning or else drag yourself up by lamplight and scribble a note out. Chances are that if you wait until morning you’ll forget, so another hackneyed writers tip – always keep a pad of paper and pencil by the bed.

Of course it isn’t just the approach of sleep that can have this effect because an idea can strike at any moment. So for the next couple of weeks I’ll probably just ramble about this phenomenon in a variety of forms, starting with some strange brain activity when we do finally fall asleep: dreams.

Many years ago now I dreamed that I was holding a book with a picture and a yellow banner much in the style of the original fantasy masterworks layout. The cover depicted an anthropomorphic figure with a bird’s head, grasping a spear and riding upon the back of a giant. And the best thing? The book was written by me. This prompted the writing of a very short piece about two of these bird people who are fishing for a special kind of fish that changes colour when the blow an underwater whistle.

Not long after I started a new job working in a postroom. With flurries of activity and then stretches of time waiting for the next load of work I used my spare time to turn this original idea in a whole book that then became the beginning of a trilogy, and now resides in literally dozens and dozens of notes and computer files. It is an absolutely enormous body of work, containing a unique world and with at least three different cultures, a fantastical history and origin myth, and its own philosophy that draws upon multiple influences. At some point I hope I can finish this (although my current rate of work perhaps taunts me otherwise).

Anyhow, the point of all this is not to blow my own trumpet (although it may sound like that) but to highlight that one small idea, one small thought or dream could be the starting point for something so much vaster. It only takes a little seed, after all, to grow a whole tree.

So, with pencil and paper by the bed, you’ll always be ready for the morning 😉

Editing and One Bad Line (Glimpsing Glimpses)

So it’s been a bit of a stalled week in working terms. Not a huge amount of editing done on the book at the moment as I’m trying to crack the the back of this particular hump. They come and go, and I’m thinking that the beginning parts of the story are perhaps a little more underdeveloped because they’re closer to the original draft, whereas the later parts became more developed as the ideas unfolded. Fingers crossed.

Perhaps the most mind numbing element of having to do all this editing and rewriting is that you end up reading your own work repeatedly, to the point that you just feel so tired you shut down and go and do something else. That’s what ousted me from the cafe and I went home where it was hard to get anything more done.

One piece of advice that I heard on editing your own work is to read it to yourself out loud. Apparently (I haven’t tried it just yet) it helps you to discern whether or not the sentence works, especially if you’ve been going over and over it until it feels like your brain is melting. I’ll certainly be giving it a try when I’ve finished the chapter I’ve been working on as its had a lot of edits and needs to be checked for how well it flows.

And as I said, it was a bit of a slack week work wise, but I did catch up some books that I wanted to read. Working my way through some fantasy series I came across an example of editing gone wrong, and this is not meant as disrespect to the author as I enjoyed his work. No, it was just this line jarred me hard:

“He could scarce blink without glimpsing some shredded glimpse of their ordeal.”

Given how huge this guys work was, there’s going to be a bum line somewhere, and as a writer you can’t be too careful about editing. Hell, I’ll probably be reading my own work for the tenth time and still find lines like this that aren’t right. It’s also probably a reflection on the fact that writers are expected to do their own editing more and more as the publishing industry looks to cut costs. It seems that these days, no matter what you do for a living, you have to make more effort than ever. So, edit edit edit.

(Briefly About) Dynamics, Clarity and Tension

Recently I came across some Youtube videos about action films which prompted me to think about certain scenes that appeared in my own work, such as the is the dynamics between characters, their interactions and the meanings that are generated. A key scene I had written was really quite flat until I introduced another character and highlighted the urgency of the task set for my protagonist, and as I proceed through the redrafting, I come across pieces of narrative that need attention. For example, the reluctant kidnapper scene near the beginning of Part 2 was really nothing special, but with a little adjustment and some exploration of how he lost his job, the scene becomes  tense (I hope).

I don’t want to spend too much time talking about this, but I think that the videos are in themselves quite interesting. I was particularly struck by how even the simplest cinematography can work so well to make the story clearer, more dynamic and give it more feeling.

By a strange co-incidence I had just been asked about the links between myth and cinema and having watched the video about the Terminator I was struck by what a great example it was of the principles that make up so many of the narrative structures of modern action movies. Having dug out the scraps of work about this that have accumulated I think that it might be possible for me to put a little book together about it. Terminator will certainly be a case study. To summarise it I would say that the core idea is that the central ideas revolve around Time, Marriage, Heroes (as saviours of fertile marriage and thus society) and something that seeks to destroy fertility and society (be it a robot, a shark or an alien). There is a lot more, but that’s for later.

Anyhew, these videos are worth checking out:

So there you have it. There’s plenty to think about in terms of narratives and especially the way that we convey tension, dynamics and meaning. To do it successfully, to do it with clarity, that’s one of the real arts of writing.

A Snowball’s Chance

Where does the time go? I find it hard to believe that I’ve been working on this project for so long and still haven’t finished. With so much time spent working on the book I neglected the blog but there wasn’t really any news to speak of, no new insights into the writing process beyond the continual process of going over and over the story. Writing is rewriting as they say.

With the second draft now completed it’s clear that the first 70% is realtively stable but that the last 30% is still in flux – as a brand new drafting it’s going to require lots more work, especially to have a finale worth the wait. Once that’s done it’ll go out to my chosen few for test reading while I concentrate on writing a proposal and finding an agent. I’ve already attempted to draft two of the mind bending tasks required in pitching the book: one is the little author bio that you get just inside the cover and the other is summing up your story in one to two paragraphs in such a way that people will read it and say to themselves “I want to read this!”

It’s a test of compacting as much meaning and excitement into as little space as possible.

On the other hand, I’d like to do something that’s a little bit of fun too, probably a little mini series set in the same world as my main book. I’ll post a link if it comes together, but I like the ideas, in part brought on by reading the graphic novel Rumble, and I’ve mixed them with a few oddities that I jotted down a month or two ago.

So for now I’m just trying to accelerate the pace and wtih changes in my circumstances it is getting easier to work regularly. With the new year I feel like the snowball is gathering momentum and as part of it I thought I’d be good to give this blog another chance.

Maybe I’ll even come up with a catchphrase to sign off my posts 😉

July 2015 Update

Progress as of June 15th (and my first Youtube vid)

Away With The Fairies as of June 21st

So, yes, the week before the Solstice I had actually finished the first draft of my book – the vid was made just before that to show what can be achieved even by just spending a few hours here and there writing. I was going to write the epilogue parts about how things turned out for everyone after the events in the finale had been done, but I figured that these would be subject to change anyway and it would be better to begin actually typing it up.

Good Intentions

With the limited time that’s been on offer this blog hasn’t really been going anywhere, and so despite best intentions it’s not living up to previous standards. It’s also perhaps a reflection of the mixed advice you get about being an author. On the one hand you get advised to get involved in social media and on the other there’s the limited good it does you if you are unable to provide worthwhile content.

Of course being able to type anything requires a laptop and it was with sadness that I found my old Macbook has decided that it’s 8+ years of service would come to an end. On a tight budget I opted for the smallest, lightest word processor I could and got an HP Stream for £180, and because of the restrictions on Microsoft Office I went for the open source version Open Office. We’ll see how that all pans out.

So that’s all for now. I’ll be working on the new draft for the next month or two and then I’ll be heading for the End Of The Road festival for a break. Stoked that I’ll be able to see Jane Weaver live. This damn song has become a serious earworm.

Anyhew, until later, all the best.


Restarting something doesn’t make it easier; once the habit is broken it can be a chore to get it back. Getting it back makes it feel like the first time all over again and starting is most times awkward, done with reluctance and often lacking in style. Yet in his time of seemingly perpetual reboots it’s  time to jump on the band wagon and reload back into the game.

So first you might want to know: Where the hell have you been?

Everything went on hiatus due to first moving out of our flat and into a bell tent, then out of a bell tent and into a yurt. With the break in my work pattern everything all became too disjointed to do any concentrated writing and there was a series of little issues, such as learning about what kind of woods you can burn in a stove. Turns out that the pile of readily available fir tree was a huge mistake as it left thick, resinous deposits in the flue which caused the smoke to start blowing back inside. Cue the chimney sweeps and a bill we could barely afford…..

Compounding this were a raft of other family problems, Christmas and general stresses. So, there you have it.

The other thing you probably want to know is: What happened to the mythic content?

This is still something that occupies the corners of my mind. Initially it seemed like a good idea but it all became too convoluted and burdensome so I ave removed it for now. At its core the concept of myth as a ‘narrative with authority’ holds true – everything is a story, from science to religion to history etc, it’s just that some story tellers are more important than others and it is their vision of reality that informs us of the de facto natural order of our world.

So for now I’ll chalk up the attempt to experience and move on. Most likely I’ll make related observations as I go along and return to it proper when I can devote the proper time to focusing on the specific elements that can be found in popular media, specifically film. For now, with the limited time available, I’ll be focusing on finishing my primary narrative.

And to that end…..

Countercrastination Is In Effect

As I stated earlier, starting out on a new venture can often be done with reluctance, and so it was that the morning came and I said ‘I don’t really want to go.’ But as both my other halves said (my partner and my conscience) ‘you know you have to.’

So off I cycled to the cafe, and it seemed that the sunshine and open air bolstered a newfound sense of purpose. Still I was nervous and that first visit was indeed suffused with a sense of awkwardness. Yet the next time was easier and so the snowballing began. It reminded me of ethnographic fieldwork as the anthropologist pitches up with the locals. At first comes the suspicion, then the curiosity, and then the acceptance. You probably know the last part – it’s when you walk in and the staff just ask you if you want your usual.

Now it’s costing me a small fortune in coffee but it’s certainly easier to focus on work. There’s no temptation to do odd jobs around the yurt or fiddle with a guitar when I reach one of those writing pauses where you have to think about which way to take the narrative. For now it’s all going in a notebook until I finish the first draft. One of the big problems I have had in the past is getting ahead of myself and trying to type up as I go along. This tends to cause problems. I’ll discuss what I think is the cause of this tendency and its other impacts in a future post.

My only concern now that I’ve started to plunder the cheese list for names is that I’ll be sued for using a copyrighted fromage inappropriately……

So, If I’m Not Procrastinating…..

….. does that mean that the name of this blog has become redundant?

And the answer should be never! For as I have said, the ways of procrastination are without end. I can find infinite ways, infinite…….

What we need to do is stay on guard, stay inspired and creative, and keep focused on the objective. This blog was originally intended to be an accompaniment to my writing of fantasy, and so with that in mind, I’ll mostly reside within those boundaries.

I’m sure they’ll be plenty to explore along the way.