Saturday, 29 April 2017

Picking the funny one.

You've either asked this question, or you've been asked it: Where do you get your inspiration from?

In my case, it's both. I love asking this of people as much as I hate answering it myself. Writers, and indeed artists of all kinds, give such great answers. Some say their inspiration comes through dreams. Others say their ideas come to them in a sudden flash, or only at night, and they must keep a notepad by their bed for hasty scribbling. Another writer-friend carries his notebook everywhere he goes and fills the pages with countless ideas and witticisms. I know writers that are inspired by their favourite works of literature.

Whenever people ask me this question (and let's face it, it's not very often, because I don't know many people 😉) I usually say something along the lines of: I sit down and think really, really hard for several hours. Fact is I don't get any ideas unless I'm looking for them. I sit down in front of my computer with a cup of coffee and I stare at the screen and type until something works. It's gruelling, and boring, and I'm often unshaven and half-dressed.

This morning, though, something different happened. I am in the middle of re-reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for the first time since it released. Harry's just finished his first trial, and it was a pretty gripping scene. The Griffindor common room is alight with celebration. Only I look away from my Kindle for a second and stare out of the window at nothing in particular.

Wouldn't it be good if I paired two of my characters up, I think as I stare out of the window at nothing in particular. (The neighbours probably think I'm a bit weird.) It would certainly cheer her up, and he'd have something to fight for. But then she can't do that thing at the end. If I take it out, well, it would make things easier. And the ending could be funny instead of sad. But dwelling on this character's future draws me inevitably back to her origins in the story, the point at which she enters the narrative. And I end up reworking her entire motivation, her arc, her emotional state. I was previously worried that the opening chapters were too grim, too bleak. No, for that matter, I'm still worried that the whole book is too bleak. This would certainly cheer up Chapter Two, I tell myself happily.

My Kindle screen dims and turns off. The Griffindor common room party temporarily dies down. And I'm still staring. What about the ending, though? That would affect Chapter Seventeen and Chapter Eighteen. I'll have to rework her father's role in the narrative, tweak his motivations a little. Wait, this also totally sheds new light on what happens in the first book. And that reveal - I'm going to have to tweak that too.

It's now been half an hour since I started staring out the window. I'm still shirtless and my coffee has gone cold. What about the ending, though? I'd previously settled on two endings and they contradicted one another. I can't have both. But the answer is obvious. I pick the funny one.

And then the entire structure of the third novel reveals itself to me like a map unfurling.

I should put a shirt on soon.

What was I saying? Oh, yeah. Staring blankly into space for ages without moving is how I get my inspiration. If I'm staring at you, I'm probably not really staring at you, I'm pairing off my characters and generally trying to keep them from dying. At least for a few more chapters.

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