Sunday, September 5, 2010

Where do my ideas come from?

I have lots of ideas that seem to come from nowhere, beginning mostly as a kind of uncomfortable nibbling feeling in my mind.  That feeling isn't really an idea: it's a germ of an idea, and it doesn't go anywhere until I've let it simmer for a while.  Characters have to arise from the germ, there must be problems the characters have a lot vested in solving, and there must certainly be a setting.  When I have these three plus the germ, I have what I call "an idea for a book".

When I say I find some germs "nowhere", I mean "nowhere special".  Shop windows, people saying something to me in the line at the supermarket, a view in nature (usually a view made ugly my humans), human interest stories in the newspaper, some argument I witness, things I overhear on the subway or in doctors' offices (people who talk on cell phones in public places shouldn't be surprised to recognize something they were upset about in a book one day.)  But in many cases, I'm reading something and it catches my interest.  I thought I would do some book reviews here and in the next little while, so that you can get an idea of the kind of book I use to help generate my own ideas.  Here is one that is exactly the kind of book (from its title) that I would have thought would be guaranteed to have given me a "germ", if I'd read it looking for one (i.e. keeping my creative brain ready)I'm putting all my creative juices right now into a different novel, but even so, I might have found something and scribbled it into what I call my "Idea Book" if the book had appealed to the period of history I'm interested in.  It didn't, and so, I didn't get an idea from it.  But you might not be like me, however, interested mostly in the years up to and including medieval times.  There is absolutely no reason, however, why the book might not do it for you.  It's the personal aspect of events that appeals to writers.  The events can be real or imagined.  The ones that are real have a lot of power, and so I approached this book with hope.  me when writing a book in a certain time period.  That's what this book specializes in.  Unfortunately, as you'll read, I think it doesn't do it adequately. 

I published it first on http://www.goodreads.com/
I'll be giving you more reviews in the next few blog posts.

The Mammoth Book of How It Happened  (Eyewitness Accounts of History in the Making from 2000 BC to the present)  Ed by Jon E. Lewis, Carroll & Graf 2006
I read the first several hundred pages of this book in detail, but I have to admit boredom as the author reached eras where history has been vastly written about. I admit to preferring history on or before the medieval period. This book is not an ordinary history book, but more an "I was there and this is how it happened" collection of anecdotes. As such, if you didn't know something and are deeply interested in the subject and you wanted to know what it was like to be there - and then, if there was nothing in the book on it at all, or much too little - you would be disappointed.  Also, if you already knew all you wanted to know about it because you were there, that part of the book might be wasted on you. A book like this is a very good idea, however. Perhaps it would have been better in several volumes, with a lot more anecdotes from each period. Only two pages are devoted to the Black Death, for example, as opposed to 14 to Hurricane Katrina. There were plenty of diarists and letters to choose from during the Black Death and earlier. The Greeks and Romans were highly literate societies, as were many of their foes; and before that there were other literate societies, as my favourite anecdote in the whole book shows: "A Schoolboy's Day" from Sumer in around 2000 BC, the first anecdote in the whole book.  It simply cannot be claimed that there were no "Great Historical Moments" from 2000 BC to the rebuilding of the Palace of Babylon in c. 600 BC. For this reason I cannot give more than two stars to the book. It's a great idea poorly constructed for me as a researching writer.  If you're using this book to get a real person's thoughts or anecdotes of an event in a later period, or if you simply don't yet know what eras you are most interested in writing about, the book might suit you quite well.

So here's one book that failed for me, but it is the type of book that might give another writer the germ of an idea.

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