One of the most common questions I get asked, both in interviews, and on panels, and just in everyday conversations with people who have just learned about What’s Left of Me is, “So, where did you get the idea for the book?”
It’s not just me. I think if you polled authors everywhere for “Most Common Question,” this would be in the top 5—along with the more general “Where do your ideas come from?” and “Any advice for getting published?"
I do have an answer for how I came up with the premise for What’s Left of Me, but yesterday, as I finished up the final edits for Once We Were before sending it to my editor, I really got to thinking about writing, and story development, and Ideas. Where did I get the idea for What’s Left of Me? I guess from watching too many movies with voice-over internal monologues, or from paying too much attention to “that little voice in the back of my head.” Where did I get the idea for Once We Were? I honestly don’t even know how to begin answering that question.
But the thing is, the initial “spark” that inspires a story can often be the least important part of the story. One of the side projects I work on from time to time was inspired by a couple lines of dialogue I thought up one day—about a girl who started out playing chess on a chess board before moving on to “playing chess” with real, live people. The series I’d like to work on after finishing The Hybrid Chronicles has such a convoluted “origin” story I’m not sure I’ll ever get it completely straight (though it will be quite something to tell when people ask!).
believe it or not, when you google "spark," the 1st few images are all cars. This was the only non-car image I got.
The point is, when I finally finished Once We Were, months and months after I first came up with the idea (which was before ever selling What’s Left of Me!), drafts and drafts after typing the first words, I looked at the book the story had become, and in so many ways, it is completely different from what I ever imagined the story would be.
And that’s not a bad thing at all.
Another question I often get asked is “How much of your real life do you put into your stories? Are your characters based on you? On people you know?” (okay, so that’s actually 3 questions, but bear with me).
No, my stories aren’t based on my life (Thank goodness!). No, my main characters aren’t supposed to be me (so much of the fun of writing is getting to inhabit another person! why would I mess that up by basing characters on myself?) No, I don’t purposely infuse them with traits belonging to people I know (playing God with made-up people is weird enough...I don’t need to start thinking of “Character Bob” as “Character Bob-but-really-my-ex”).
...and this is what you get when you google "character Bob." Yeah...
But stories are a bit like Life-Sponges, I think. I’m a different person now than I was when I came up with the idea for Once We Were. Every day that I’ve lived since then—every experience that I’ve had, every person I’ve met, every story I’ve heard…it’s changed me, however little. And because of that, it’s changed my story. Maybe not through anything purposeful on my part, but still, there has been change.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say, is, the next time an author Hmmmm and Hummms trying to answer “Where did you get the idea for your story?” (though really, we probably won’t, because we’re so well-versed in answering this particular question, :P), maybe it’s because it’s not that initial spark that was most important, but everything that happened afterward.