This post is reblogged from January 2015. It’s time to get back to my original idea and start writing again! I’ve quite possibly been experiencing the biggest tangent ever… 😉
Is it just me, or does every writer experience those moments when you suddenly have no idea where you’re going with a scene and your characters go off on a tangent? One minute you’re writing like crazy and the next you’re wondering what in the hell you’ve been writing about for the last 30 minutes and what it’s got to do with anything.
I guess you could argue a well planned structure and a good chapter outline would mitigate such unsettling moments. Certainly, without an outline, however detailed it may or may not be, it would very much surprise me if a novel was started, let alone finished. An outline is surely critical for such a large body of words to make sense as a whole. You can review it before you start each chapter, amend it if you like, but use it consistently to navigate your creativity. Even great adventurers need a good compass.
I’m a pantser
But I don’t have an outline, I’m a “pantser” (that’s what writers call it)… at least I don’t have one that’s detailed. So is there another way to get back on track? Is there another method, which can reset my pen to its factory settings when it’s gone troppo? For even though some tangents can help you understand your characters, even understand yourself, a tangent is still a tangent; they are not always useful in accomplishing your goal or meaning. I mean, who wants to listen to your elderly next door neighbour rambling on about her haemorrhoids, when she’s supposed to be describing what the burglar looked like?
The original idea
So I was lucky enough to stumble over Bob Mayer’s acclaimed guide, The Novel Writer’s Toolkit at the beginning of my writing journey. My mother-in-law, a prize-winning playwright, gave the book to me to borrow; that was back in 2013 and I’ve still not given it back. It’s excellent. Quite early in the book, Mayer talks about a concept I’m beginning to use more and more regularly. It’s called the Original Idea and I agree with Mayer when he describes it as ‘the foundation of your novel’.
To put it simply, the Original Idea is the main idea from which your story stemmed. It’s what excited you, what inspired you, it’s the reason why you’re writing the book (unless you’re the kind of person who only dreams of money and grandeur, of course). Mayer goes on to say you should be able to say or write your idea in one sentence. I’m not so sure all ideas can be so succinct. Nevertheless, it definitely needs to be short enough for you to repeat easily when required.
Let me share with you my original idea. It’s a personal thing, but at the same time it’s what I hope will hook my readers, so it must be made public. I firmly believe once you have your original idea in a sentence (or two), you need to hold it, get to know it, sleep with it, then shout it from the rooftops; because if not a single person gives a toss, then you may as well just write a diary entry and be done with it. Then you should probably sit quietly in a corner and worry incessantly about your sense of taste and if you really should be a writer. I’m joking.
So. Here we go. I’m suddenly nervous I didn’t shout it far enough before I wrote four parts of a five part story. That would suck, wouldn’t it. Actually, if you’ve bothered to read my Home Page, it won’t come as surprise:
What if…. a woman is found dead, dressed in genuine 1950’s clothes, and no-one can identify her – except one old man who claims she’s his wife who went missing in 1956?
If you’re interested, I got my idea from reading about the Taman Shud Case, otherwise known as the mystery of the Somerton Man. To elaborate, the body of man was found on an Adelaide beach in 1948; the cause of death was inconclusive, his clothes were unusual for the time and season, and he was found with no ID. In his pocket he held a note on which was written a secret code. To this day, the man has never been identified. Various conspiracy theories exist as to who he was, including accusations of Soviet espionage, stories of unrequited love and the simple explanation the man was from another country. But no-one really knows.
The story fascinated me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. For some crazy reason I wondered if he’d just beamed to the beach from another dimension… or another time. And so, my idea was born. Of course, such an idea should probably belong in a fantasy or sci-fi genre but, as a lover of crime fiction, I wondered what would happen if a detective today was confronted by an unexplainable mystery? Would today’s scientific and evidential approach to crime be sufficient to solve the case? How would he react?
Perhaps, upon reflection, I need to amend my earlier sentence. (Don’t ever let it be said that blogging is a waste of time!)
What if… a detective was confronted by an unexplainable mystery?
So, back to my train of thought and my Original Idea for this post. (See how easy it is to veer off on tangents! Deep breath…)
When I reach a tangent in my novel, I take a moment, stop writing and remind myself of yes, you’ve guessed it, my Original Idea. Let me give you an example from my novel Jane Bardot.
How it actually works
Detective Ryan Price and his partner, Kate Miller, are continuing in their attempt to identify their Jane Doe. They have been given an address at which, they have been led to believe, their cadaver’s possible sister may have lived back in the 1950s, but they have not yet confirmed names of the past or current owner of the property. The scene evolves, whereby they are trying to decide if they should first take steps to research the history of the property and it’s lineage of owners, or if they should just turn up unannounced and unprepared.
As I was writing this scene, I found myself invariably getting carried away with the developing (yet still unspoken) romance between my two main characters. I decided – quite haphazardly – they should spend some time together, away from the case, so I devised a way to ensure the library was shut, and the road leading out to the property was closed, and I was just about to throw in a bit of alcohol and dancing… when I realised I’d gone off on a tangent. Duh duh duh. I’d done it again. What the hell was I doing and where was I going with this?
Time to pull out my Original Idea. But how would it guide me to where I should really be heading?
So far, Ryan has been quite affected by this case. Despite his extensive experience and knowledge in solving homicides, he can’t help but think there’s something mysterious and different about this particular Jane Doe. Ever since he saw her on the beach, he’s been struck by how out of place she looked. But he’s torn. Surely they can crack it; surely there’s an explanation; surely somebody, somewhere knows who she is. Yet all the signs are pointing to the old man being right. And he can’t take it. At least at first.
He’s beginning to discover that common sense and logic are not the only way with which to proceed in this case. He’s learning to trust his instinct, his feelings. He’s gaining confidence in both himself and his beliefs. No matter how crazy his suspicions seem to others, to pursue them may be the only possible way to resolve the case.
So I decide resolutely that he needs to get to the farmhouse, and quickly; he’s gaining in confidence and he needs to follow his gut. I also decide that he has better things to do than run around drunk at a country music festival with his potential love interest.
My Original Idea worked again.
I briefly apologised to my characters that it’s not yet their time to relax, flirt and spend time away from the case together. They have work to do.
And speaking of which… so do I!
I would love to hear from you about anything that has intrigued you. Was it enough to spark a creative endeavour or action of some kind?
Does the premise of my novel intrigue you?