I’m not sure what other writers experiences are like in this regard, but in my case, I get a lot of cool ideas. In a given year, I feel as though I generate perhaps a dozen ideas I feel I could move forward into a novel, although I only have the time to actually execute one or two of them.
The aforementionedLand of the Free and The Ghost King are cool ideas in this vein. The Ghost King is a young idea. I came up with this early in 2019 after reading Wendy’s Brown’s Undoing the Demos. Land of the Free is a much older idea. In fact, I have a hard time dating it. I feel as though it first started rumbling around my brain around the time I was writing Schrödinger’s City back in 2015.
In many cases, a vivid scene or situation will capture my imagination, but I won’t know what to do with it because characters and theme aren’t readily apparent.
In the case of The Other, I had the idea for one of its pivotal scenes shortly after I finished Alterra—a boy appearing inside the walls a century after after they went up, one who looked human on the outside, but was not on the inside. But I didn’t have anything I could actually do with this compelling scene until the Trump campaign and the right wing obsession with walls became a compelling real world theme to draw upon. From there, I found the characters, and the whole thing came together.
Intersection Thirteen worked like this, too. Shortly after finishing Insomnium in 2014, I had an idea for a serialized novel, the setting of which was an artificial universe, like Insomnium’s, but one which had been fully stabilized. I imagined a cast of main characters inhabiting it and using it as the home base for adventures. Whacky human (or sometimes demi-human) people from parallel universes would show up from time to time, but I sat on the idea because I could never answer the question of why the main characters were there, what they were trying to accomplish, or what the point of any of their adventures might be. Covid-19 came along, and suddenly I found myself with a compelling use for that artificial universe.
Most of my ideas are like this. They start with a compelling core, but it takes some effort to find the story’s purpose and drive. Once in a great while, however, I will have an idea that latches onto my imagination and won’t let me stop thinking about it. In a short span time, usually less than a day, I go from zero to ready to start cranking out words. So far, this has only happened to me twice in eight years: Voyage Embarkation and Schrödinger’s City were both like this.
It has happened to me again, yesterday. In fact, it was as I was cogitating the end of my previous blog post and thinking through all of its implications.
In the past I would have jumped headlong into such a project, but I now have enough experience to know that the new and fun and exciting thing is not necessarily the thing I should give myself. The idea remains compelling, one I want desperately to work on, but that’s not quite good enough for me. I’m going to stick to my original plan, at least for the short term. Land of the Free and The Ghost King must definitely be written next. However, I’m open to perhaps revising my plan after that, if the idea can remain compelling for a year or more. I have sat on other cool ideas for longer.