Monday, June 4, 2012, 1:45 PM
I've got a novel coming out tomorrow. Here's some insight on where a few of the ideas in Spinner of Lies originate.
I used to wonder where authors got their ideas, and how they turned those ideas into a story stretching 80,000 words or more. Then I became an author, and through brute experience, learned it myself. Save up funny ideas and odd thoughts, and when the time comes to convert ideas into a story, set daily deadlines. Sounds easy, right? Let’s pry that apart a little bit.
Ideas are seeds, which you can collect against later need. Ideas can come to you any time, but usually seem to do so while you’re watching TV, taking a shower, talking to a friend with a funny story, exercising on the treadmill, or sometimes even while you’re trying to brainstorm interesting ideas. It doesn’t really matter when or why--if the idea makes you think, “Cool!” then it’s an idea worth saving.
When you’ve got time (preferably during a week away from your day job), plant those idea-seeds, tend them as they grow into an outline, and see what blossoms. If you plant enough seeds in the same place, you’ll end up with a garden.
But here’s the thing. Sometime while your garden is growing and you’re laying down the paving stones, chapter by chapter, you’ll suddenly see a connection you hadn’t planned for, hadn’t anticipated, and hadn’t even realized you needed. It’ll rise out of the ground like the foundation of an ancient ruin that’s been there all along. You’ll marvel at its beauty and symmetry, and wonder how you could be so lucky.
Of course, good luck isn’t usually random happenstance like some people imagine. Luck is actually the ability to first recognize and then take advantage of opportunities that come your way, in life and in writing. A writer “lucky” enough to find hidden connections between characters, events, and plot is actually a writer willing to take chances on exploring opportunities (or experiences) that fall into his or her lap.
And thus I come to my inspirations for Spinner of Lies. The character of Demascus was already part of a story arc introduced in the preceding novel, Sword of the Gods. That said, unexpected elements in the novel drove the story forward in entirely unforeseen ways, great and small. Those elements include the water-pipe lounge, Madri, the angel relic Fossil, and the drow who tries to steal the arambarium “motherlode.”
Another unexpected element were the Whispering Children, as most awfully personified in the novel by the Necromancer. Here’s how this particular idea-seed came to me.
My friend Torah and I went to see a Picasso exhibit. We didn’t have any experience with Picasso’s paintings, and we were excited to see his work. The museum was packed with others who apparently felt the same. All of us were excited to see “one of the greatest and most influential artists of the 20th century.”
But a creeping sensation grew with each new section of the exhibition we visited: I didn’t like these paintings. Each piece was a brick of oppression and unease that taken all together built an ugly edifice. My disquiet culminated when we entered a long room dominated by several cubist-style portraits. They looked to me like pieces of shattered corpses randomly sewn together in a mockery of life. I hated them.*
As we left the museum and discussed our reactions, it hit me: What if paintings like the ones we’d just seen were so terrible, not because an artist was able to manifest ugly emotions on canvas, but because (when translated to the realm of magic where Spinner of Lies unfolds) such paintings were prisons of individual demigods, trapped in their own portraits, each one revealing the aspect of the caught entity?
Who might have the power to trap demigods in paintings, and why would they do so? Would the paintings grant any special powers or pose any particular dangers to those who viewed them? If such paintings existed, who’d collect them? Maybe they’d be scattered, except for a few special curators who knew to look for them and gather them in secret, so that when treated properly, these paintings would be like tutors for those with the fortitude to listen to their horrid whispers:
“... [The painting] could just barely be described as a face. The multitude of shattered portraits, jammed together to form a single entity abiding in apparent unceasing agony, met her gaze with mismatched eyes. Its gaping mouth was like a wound. The frozen vista of paint snared the visage in cruel brush strokes.”
So that’s the story. The exhibition and my reactions to it were the inspiration for the Whispering Children. The incorporation of the idea changed the novel by creating completely new opportunities for the characters to explore. Plot arcs sprouted in the “garden” of my outline and draft that I hadn’t previously anticipated, rippling through the entire narrative.
Spinner of Lies on the Wizards product page
*I acknowledge my reaction might be due to the museum’s choice of pieces; I’m not unaware of the importance of Picasso, but these particular paintings were not my favorite. On the other hand, I know Picasso’s body of work is vast, and the museum only could show a fraction. A different exhibit could strike me completely differently (and, who knows, perhaps spark a whole different idea in a future novel).