Where do your ideas come from?

December 31, 2014 at 2:17 pm (Daily Awesomeness, Slow Writing, Writing Advice)

Any writer will tell you – everywhere.

In 2015 I plan to write slowly – that is, to drastically alter my usual style (I generally finish a book within a month – whether writing for NaNoWriMo or not).

Now that I’ve finished another draft of “Flight of Fancy” (inspired by my daughter’s first fictional story – I literally took her few sentences and made them into a novel) I’m raring to go.

I’m going to STOP and prepare for at least two months, including research and a detailed outline. But I’ve been waiting for inspiration to strike and haven’t had anything to research yet.

The first “hit” was when I was re-watching this video: http://vimeo.com/111547854

I had the idea of having a blind girl nick-named “Cat” because she loves to bask in sunshine. A while ago I read a sad true story of a mum who badly burned her child with spilled coffee because she’d been awake over 24 hours (hence the coffee) and when you’re that tired accidents happen. Although it was clearly not her fault, she had never forgiven herself. I’m fascinated by stories of redemption, so I thought I’d write about Cat’s mother after she’d accidentally blinded her child. I’m also fascinated by blindness, but I try not to write too many blind characters (I have several) because I write in first person and it’s beyond my skill to describe things really well for sighted readers without using visual detail. (Reflecting on my actual capabilities is a definite plus of slow writing – I can spot fatal flaws before the first word is written, and then change them before it’s too late.) So I looked into recovery from blindness. It’s amazing scientifically (http://discovermagazine.com/galleries/zen-photo/b/blindness) and socially (http://io9.com/the-world-that-only-formerly-blind-people-can-see-476400679).

I wondered at this point if I was writing a book for adults, since I could definitely write as a guilt-ridden Mum (writing for adults is unusual for me. . . apart from anything else, the length is quite different and I’m not sure I have a good sense of either the rhythm or the market) and/or something set entirely in the real world (without any fantasy elements).

Neither seemed like a good idea for me (plus it seemed too dark and sad for my liking), so I decided the blindness and recovery had a magical basis. I knew Cat was grateful for her blindness – partly because it changed who she hung out with, but also because it enriched her life in some other way too. I decided that her recovery would be something she kept a secret, in order to appear more mystically impressive than she was (“Wow! It’s like she’s not even blind at all!”) So Cat became a sorceress – a cheerful, smart, sorceress with a flair for drama that could easily make her very powerful.

I still didn’t feel confident about writing as a blind person, even a fake blind person, so I figured (and still figure) Cat would be friends with my hero. . . whoever she is. (Yes, “she”. I’m a girl, which is one good reason, and the world needs more female heroes, which is another.)

I left my complete lack of a main character on the back burner while I thought about the setting. Having a sorceress immediately feels like a quasi-medieval story. There are WAY too many of those – plus, to do a decent job I’d need to do a scary amount of research (and it would still feel incredibly derivative, because there’s just too much quasi-medieval stuff out there – including “Flight of Fancy” although that world is more “fairyland” than regular medieval). It would confuse me utterly to do another steampunk world. So as I was thinking about where to start I decided it should be something future-y. NOT something all computer-y, because I find that very dull. Some other kind of future – something new and interesting and different.

Last night I read Psalm 95, including this bit:

For the Lord is the great God,
    the great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
    and the mountain peaks belong to him. (NIV)

I finished reading and lay down to go to sleep, but I felt something in the back of my mind telling me I’d missed some vital hook. I got up and re-read it, and the line about “depths of the earth” inspired the idea of enormous epic underground tunnel systems (with windows in the top so Cat had her sunshine). I liked that, and thought about it some more – what would make humanity move underground? Since dirt is a brilliant insulator, I figured it was heat. Australia is the driest continent – more desert than not – so that made sense.

In my thoughts of the future, I’d forgotten about the obvious – global warming. In itself, global warming is a cliché – but it all depends how its handled (for one thing, it’d be nice if it WASN’T post-apocalyptic. . . just different). I figured tunnelling underground was one way to cope with major temperature change. Another was reclaiming land like in Holland or Hong Kong. Another was to adjust existing dwellings – sealing gaps, designing ventilation shafts – which would be delightfully ad hoc – or build new dwellings designed to stay on the sea floor. Still another was to have floating cities – which could be so beautiful, especially if glass and/or spheres were liberally used (to utilise solar power? To float more easily? As a suspension system to deal with wild waves and weather?) And some people would try hard to stay on land – just moving higher and higher up the nearest mountain (which would get easier to live on as it grew warmer).

I’d read something somewhere about buildings deliberately designed to float, and I know there are islands already getting taken over by the sea – plus I’ve seen Hong Kong’s man-made land extension for myself. I had a huge and fascinating place to start my research – laying in magic where I found it best.

I came up with the idea that medieval-style magic really existed in the Middle Ages, and something triggered its return. Don’t know what yet, especially since when we talk “medieval” we’re really talking about Great Britain – and I want to think on a more global scale.

There will of course be major issues with food and water (water might be easy – our ocean is salty because of minerals getting left in there during normal rain cycles. If we melted Antarctica, it would be diluted and might even become drinkable, or close to it), so I’d need to think hard about that too.

I believe human nature is fundamentally stupid in a lot of ways. Here in Australia one government put into place an unpopular “carbon tax”. It was a brave and necessary thing to do. Then the government switched sides, and the new lot threw it out. Arg!

So it will take a LOT before we change the habits that are causing us to head towards potential global crisis environment-wise (I’m writing on my laptop with the AC on, for example). But I think humans also have amazing ingenuity, and when bad stuff DOES happen, we will most likely come up with new ways to deal with it. A lot of those new ways have already been thought of, on the fringes of engineering and science. I’ll look into it and see what makes the best story. I really liked the film “Waterworld” so I’ll have to keep an eye on myself to make sure I’m not stealing from that.

And then there’s the social side of this new world, which will be huge.

Regular readers will know how appalled I am at Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. Unfortunately human history shows that people are generally awful towards refugees (with many beautiful exceptions – including modern-day Germany). . . and if the world changes drastically, refugees will definitely suffer for it.

The likely place for them is on floating cities – literally drifting without a place to call home, and from which they can be rejected from every corner of the globe (while possibly also being the cutting-edge of scientific stuff, due to travel and personal experience). But it occurred to me that if certain weather events trigger major change (I’ve heard of global warming “tipping points” where gradual change becomes sudden change in a heartbeat), a floating city might suddenly be the only form of sustainable life – in which case the refugees would suddenly be the ones with beggars at their door (and they might or might not let them in).

So that’s likely to be some kind of climax, in a world where there is already major tension from both the environment and between the different groups. And something going on for my myserious heroine, too.

I think Cat’s real name will be “Cassandra” and she’ll be the one who first “sees” the next tipping point coming. But she’ll still be a cheerful, relaxed sort of person.

Feel free to help with my research by directing me to theories about what will happen to the Earth physically (and when), and what kind of food/water/housing solutions people are talking about/inventing so far.

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