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 Maybe the silly idea that sparked the story explains why the manuscript remains unpublished.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: