The Healer and the Pirate

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Musing about fiction - WHAT

So last week, in a fit of desperation for a topic, I decided to talk about "who" (in the Who, What, Where, When, Why, How list). Which means this week, what I talk about, is "what."

You knew it had to come at some point. Might as well get it out of the way now!

Anyway, so "what." What do you write about?

I've always been drawn to writing fiction. And when I write fiction, I tend to write about the improbable and fantastic. Why is that, I wonder?

I think I tend toward writing speculative because if you stick with stories of what is plausible, or even possible, then I think you might as well write non-fiction. I do like historical fiction in principle; of mainline Christian romances, the only ones I've even tried reading are historicals. I also enjoy and fiction that involves substantial non-fiction elements (like the Little House books being semi-autobiographical and My Side of the Mountain doing quite a lot of downright "telling" about survival and the wilderness). I've heard kids nowadays aren't interested in the "Little House" books because they're really divorced from the natural world. That could definitely be true (not sure many kids want to hear about the fun of roasting a pig's tail and playing with an inflated pig's bladder). But on the other hand, I imagine young adults enjoyed the details of "The Hunger Games," like purifying water with iodine.

As I argued last week, it's not necessarily about writing "what you know." But if not what you know...then what?

You know those weird passions that you get for no reason and don't even know where they came from? (Mine is the old Coney Island, given I don't like rides that are TOO thrilling (the Cyclone is scary but fine), don't care for beaches, and dislike crowds and seedy places.)

Do you think when you get those random things that fascinate you for no reason, that's what you're meant to write? I don't know.

One thing I can say--at least for speculative/children's and young adult series--is that a bit of inspiration can be honed into something wildly successful. Reportedly, C.S. Lewis was inspired by an image of a faun holding an umbrella and parcels which (obviously influenced by his background and childhood imaginings) eventually led to the Narnia series. JK Rowling says the idea for Harry Potter just fell into her head on a long train ride. And I haven't read the books, but I've heard it said that Stephenie Meyer had a dream of a human girl and a vampire who loved her and also wanted her blood, which inspired "Twilight." Wikipedia even reports that Suzanne Collins was inspired to write "The Hunger Games" when she was flipping through channels on TV!

I'm sure there are many successful series that weren't built on a flash of inspiration, and I imagine it's possible that authors would lie about where they really got their ideas from. But it sounds like when you get that inspiration, you might want to follow it.

So, how do you decide which "what" is worth pursuing? Honestly, I'm no closer to knowing than I was a month ago. I'm starting to seriously think I need to pray for inspiration!

Or, perhaps, pray about which thread I should follow.

What do you know? At least one of those threads (2 if you count a potential collaborative project) involves Coney Island!


  1. You said, "Do you think when you get those random things that fascinate you for no reason, that's what you're meant to write?"

    I think fascination would make the research and writing a lot of fun. I was surprised to discover (on Ann Patchett's Amazon page) that she didn't know about opera when she wrote Bel Canto, nor much about the Amazon when she decided to write her newest, State of Wonder.

    I've chosen to use settings that I know well, in order to make them realistic, but all the rest is fiction! I also like to learn about people, places, issues, and ideas when I read.

    Interesting post!

  2. Interesting! I'm fortunate enough to have broad subjects I find fascinating...but less fortunate to lack a specific story that needs told around those subjects.

    It seems to me that any learning about people, places, issues, and ideas pays off later in writing. I did a good role-play plot by basically lifting the concerns of Meiji-era Japan regarding Westerners into a fantasy setting...