I’m in the opening stages of planning a follow up to Conventions: The Garden At Paris. It will build upon Conventions, while I hope it will also be a “stand alone” novel. Likely it will have some of the same characters, as well as some new ones – once again, both historical as well as fictional.
While I have some general thoughts right now, essentially I’m on a “blank slate” once more. As I have written recently, it is a terrifying place to be. However, it is also an amazing one: for this is where “it” all begins.
From where do writers get their story and characterization ideas? I have discovered that you as the writer are probably a better initial source than you may realize. However, you need to understand too that in all likelihood you are not interesting enough to write a “memoir” either: chances are you aren’t “Nelson Mandela.”
But you should not be discouraged by that fact. It is from that personal base that your writer’s imagination kicks in – you build on your realities with fiction. And then you have a novel.
For my Atlantic Lives novels, I drew heavily on my own life and fictionalized many I have known. Indeed although I had not anticipated it at the time, using that approach also allowed me in small measure to keep alive the spirits of some now since deceased, including my mother and my uncle: both were living when I wrote the three books, but both died suddenly within 2 weeks of each other in late 2015. Every time I pick up one of the novels again now, re-read parts of them and re-encounter old happenings and conversations, I’m pleased I had unexpectedly “immortalized” those memories in that way.
When it came to Conventions, set mostly in the 1780s and early 1790s, clearly I didn’t “live” then. But, as a writer, the universality of experience naturally remains valid. For some source material, once again I have utilized aspects of myself and those I know or have known, and fictionalized certain personal experiences.
Over the weekend, I changed my Instagram bio. This is a laugh, yet there is some truth in it. Social media is a relatively new, and potentially fantastic, source of material:
Of course we have no idea what will strike us as a way to go, or where, or when, or under what circumstances. An important example of that for me? I’m gonna let you in on a secret here: it is from where I got the name of the “leading lady” in that planned novel that eventually became Passports and its sequels.
It being my first novel, of course I wanted to get it “right.” That maddening question: “What will be her name?” had been driving me nuts for weeks. I had tried a couple of others in the first bits of writing, but none really conveyed the character. It was a name I knew I had to be 100 percent happy with because “she” was going to be super-important.
I have said previously that I had had a friend of that same name
too many years ago. However, the immediate prompter and clincher was “Isabelle” happened to be the name of a pleasant, friendly and chatty, and French, British Airways flight attendant who served us on a flight in late 2012.
On the flight itself, suddenly, I knew! Voila! I had the name of my leading lady!
There is a danger at times too of taking writing way too seriously. The metaphors often applied by writers – Hemingway’s bleeding on the page being an oft-quoted one – to their craft are, at times, decidedly overheated. There is – there should be! – some fun in the creating as well.
Don’t be afraid to allow yourself to take from realms you would never have expected and refashion what you see for your own purposes. All writers seize upon ideas from among what happens around them. The world in which we all live is a virtually limitless source of material.
Have a good Monday, wherever you are in that world. 🙂