Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Grappling with a Big Idea

It's my pleasure to have debut author, Gina Robinson, as my guest Over Coffee. As a writer, it's always fascinating to me how authors get their ideas for their stories. I love to catch a glimpse of their writing process, if you will, and hear how the develop those ideas into a novel. Today, Gina discusses how she gets The Big Idea, the love/hate relationship she has with it, and how works the idea into a great story, such as Spy Candy.


As a writer, I often feel like a tiny feather-weight wrestler trying to take down and tame an awesome, intimidating sumo of an idea. At other times, I feel like I’m trying to grasp and wrestle something so light and ethereal that I’ll never get a hold on it. How can you shape a wisp of smoke into a solid brick foundation?

I don’t know about other writers, but my process for crafting a story usually starts with the Big Idea. I read or hear or see something that seems to shout at me, “Now there’s a story!” For example, I read about a fantasy spy camp in a travel magazine. That sparked the idea for my book, Spy Candy, which, oddly enough, is about a woman who goes to a fantasy spy camp and runs into some real intrigue.

But often, the idea’s not even that solid. Sometimes, it’s downright silly. I wrote an entire 100, 000 word manuscript because I read about an Old West detective escaping an angry mob by crawling beneath a wooden boardwalk. I just had to work that into a book. The annals of literature absolutely needed it. So, of course, my hero escaped a hanging mob in the same fashion. It provided a great excuse for our hero to look up the heroine’s skirt as she walked all over him. And for her to retaliate by raining dirt into his eyes through cracks in the boardwalk. Maybe the silly idea that sparked the story explains why the manuscript remains unpublished. And it may very well also explain the phrase, “Here’s mud in your eye!”

My Big Ideas always start out as fuzzy, beautiful things. I almost literally feel them and the emotional responses they’re supposed to elicit. The idea sits floaty and heavenly in my mind, a vague notion. A couple of scenes seen through a fog. At this point, I’m convinced this story will be the best story I’ve ever written. Its story germ is so fabulous, how could it be otherwise?

But even a notion needs some substance to become a real story. So I start researching, note taking, doing a bit of rudimentary plotting and the all-important thinking. After awhile, the researching gets old, and the thinking starts to feel like mere procrastination. It’s time to put the story on the page. But where to start? In whose point of view? Should the opening scene take place in the heroine’s apartment, the lab, or at the coffee shop? Do I need a prologue? Suddenly I hate that mean, nasty sumo wrestler with its arrogant, big idea ways. At that point, I feel like screaming in frustration, “What’s the big idea! Why won’t the story glide onto the page like it’s supposed to?”

That’s the stage I’m at right now. Trying to grapple the Big Idea into some entertaining opening pages. It has me struggling to keep from being pinned when it should be the other way around. I hate that stupid Big Idea. It’s too much for me. I don’t have the skills to write and get it onto the page the way it feels in my head. Why did I ever believe that I could?

But if this story runs true to my pattern, after a few chapters, I’ll gain some strength and pick up writing speed. By mid book, I’ll begin liking my idea again. By the end, I’ll even love it once more as I pin it to the mat. Then I’ll be sorry to see the match end, worthy opponent that the Big Idea was.

But for now, it’s back to—coffee shop or lab?
***

Gina Robinson lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and children. In her everyday life, she enjoys quiet, homey pursuits—reading, baking, container and basket gardening, working out at the gym, attending her children’s many activities, and visiting with family and friends. In her fiction, she’s very fond of explosions, gunfights, extreme sports, suspense, humor, and romance. She writes humorous romantic suspense for Zebra Books, Kensington Publishing, NY, NY. Her debut novel, Spy Candy, is available now. Her second novel, Spy Games, will be released in December 2009. For more information about Gina and her books, check out her website at: www.ginarobinson.com

33 comments:

~Sia McKye~ said...

Welcome Gina! I'm glad you're here. :-)

Ken Coffman said...

Ah, the battle with the book, I know it well. One nice thing about this battle is I always win. Ha!

Gina Robinson said...

Thanks for having me, Sia.

Great point, Ken. I never thought of it that way, but each time we finish a ms, we have won.

~Sia McKye~ said...

And victory always feels great!

I'm glad you like the set up Gina and it's my pleasure to have you. :-)

aries18 said...

I know that beautiful dreamy feeling of the Big Idea! I'm stilling stuggling against the nitty gritty Sumo wrestler for my Big Idea. You described the process perfectly! I can hardly wait to get your book Spy Candy! It sounds like a load of fun.... I like explosions, too. ;o)

Great guest Sia, you always attract the best!

Thanks Gina, for a great article on the battle of the book!

jrafferty said...

Hi Gina,

Interesting points about the process of going from the big idea to doing the actual writing. Good luck with getting the next one down on the pages.

Netti said...

I don't write, but from a reader stand point I'm so glad you guys battle the book and overcome!

Great post! Thanks for sharing!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Netti, not only from a readers' stand point, but you speak also from a Booksellers stand point, too, I'm sure, lol! It's a good book too, btw. Be sure to talk it up in your store.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Wanda? A sumo warrior? That presents quite a picture. Sometimes it feels like that, doesn't it?

Susan Gable said...

LOL - I love the idea of writing an entire book so someone can escape under a boardwalk. I can relate to that.

Oooo, hey, looking at your book cover -- that cover price is going to entice a LOT of people into giving you a try. I love it when publishers give new authors a great cover price. It really does work.

I think they did it with Madelyne Hunter.

I'll be looking for your book when I head out to the stores!

Cheryl Tardif, author and book marketing coach said...

What a great premise, Gina! You've managed to take something unusual and spin it until it's your own, and that's what makes a great author and a great story.

I definitely understand what you're saying here. I'm often inspired by some little thing or one element in a dream. The challenge is then taking the little idea and making it breathe as a BIG, BRIGHT IDEA. It sounds as if you've managed it just fine with Spy Candy, and if you relax and just let the scenes come to you, it'll happen with this next book.

It's YOUR idea. Only you can run with it and take it where it needs to go, so never doubt yourself. Allow the story to tell itself through you. And don't expect every novel to write the same way. If you have a clear scene in your mind, write it. Work backwards if you have to.

Don't worry about if it's good enough, if it'll get published, if...if...if...

Write it because you have to, write it for yourself. This was the best advice I was ever given.

Gina, I love the title of your book and the cover too, and I wish you the very best in success always.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif,
bestselling author
http://www.cherylktardif.com

Pat Bertram said...

Here's mud in your eye? What a great theme for a book! Maybe the only thing wrong with the book is that you didn't develop the theme enough. Either way, sounds like a fun story to me. And who says a "big idea" has to be big? An clod of dirt falls, ho-hum. But from that simple idea can come the mystery of gravity.

Wishing you all the best with your writing, Gina. We're all rooting for you.

sherilynwinrose said...

I'm presently in a similar battle Gina. The story pulls this way and then that. Finding the center has proven problematic, but still I try.

Much, much success to you!

Lisa K. said...

This was one of those essays where I sat through the entire piece nodding to myself. Yes. Yes, that's exactly how it feels sometimes. Yes. Beautifully articulated.

Jill Lynn said...

Gina, you described the writer's struggle so well!

I look at the novels I've finished, and wonder how in the world I was ever able to write them when my current WIP simply will not behave, adhere, or conform.

Best of luck with your current WIP, and each one thereafter.

Jamie C. said...

You're supposed to have an idea when you write? Perhaps that's my problem. Kidding!

Great article, Gina. My process is quite a bit different. For almost every novel I've written, the opening scene comes to me before the idea. And I dream the opening multiple times. I do research as I go and usually stumble upon interesting things to add as I research. My subconscious seems to know what it's doing. My logical mind gets too caught up in facts, so if I think too much, I have problems. It just flows for me or it doesn't. It's a strange process, but it works for me, I guess. Or maybe it doesn't work. I've yet to be published.

Sharon Lathan said...

Congratulations Gina. Best of luck with the book. It is so fun, if exhausting, to have that first one out there.

Yeah, the ideas are always interesting in how they occur. There often seems to be no rhyme or reason to it, but then it works out brilliantly. The gift of a writer. Here's hoping the ideas keep on coming!

Gina Robinson said...

Good luck to everyone who's struggling to get a story down! The reward is worth it. That's what I keep telling myself today as I wrestle against the usual adversaries and a migraine :-)

Jamie--Every writer works differently. That's the beauty of the human mind. We're each unique.

Other Lisa said...

Tackle that Big Idea and wrestle it to the ground!

Great post, Gina. I have nothing to add that needs to be said. You really covered it.

Helen Ginger said...

I love your description of your process. Very visual. Sometimes it does feel like tackling a slippery sumo wrestler!

Kat Sheridan said...

Wonderful article, Gina, and Sia, as usual, you have an interesting guest! When I was writing, I wrote more like Jamie. Whole thing all at once, in one big downpour. Researching as I went, or marking places to research later. Your book sounds like it will be a fun read! Best of luck with this one and all the future one!

Vivian A said...

Gina I love Spy Candy. Read it in a single sitting. Fun characters and some great twists!

If you haven't read it yet, give it a try.

John Philipp said...

Great article, Gina and I enjoyed your book.

I think I'm more like Jamie. I start with a few scenes in my head. Somewhere along the way the story gives birth to the Big Idea and then I have to go back and change some of what was written.

But the trip's always fun — at least until I get to the part where I get the validity of semi-colons.

John Philipp said...

That should be "get to check" ...

readwriteandedit said...

I love the visual of wrestling--with both the large wrestler who actively opposes and the flighty feather that can't be pinned. My wrestling comes more with the words than the ideas--I struggle to choose words to convey what I already feel and see.

Great post, Gina. And, Sia, well done as always.

Jacquie Rogers said...

I vote for Colonel Mustard, in the billiards room, with the blunt instrument.

I'm looking forward to your new book!

Jacquie

Sun Singer said...

The bad news is this: you can't run from a big idea once you acknowledge it. It hunts you down like a terminator. I like your approach to getting things more or less under control.

Malcolm

Dana Fredsti said...

Here's mud in your eye... Gina, I'd love to read that book!

Lynnette Baughman said...

I like your crisp visual of the sumo wrestler. I also like the hero under the wooden sidewalk. Are you sure you can't use it for a "cute meet"?
Lynnette

HOPELESSBELIEVER said...

Really great post Sia!!!!! Thank you :)
take care my sweet friend,
Julian

~Sia McKye~ said...

Julian, thanks! Surgery went well and I'm sort of in and out of it right now, but hugs to you!

Gina, thank you so much for being my guest over coffee! It was a pleasure. good article!

Gina Robinson said...

You're welcome, Sia. I enjoyed it. Take care of yourself. We want you to have a speedy recovery!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Thanks, Gina. I'm working on it! Ice packs, pain pills, and sleep.

Now if I had a couple of muscular guys waving palm fronds over me--oh and feeding me cold crisp grapes...