Saturday, 30 April 2016

A Compelling Idea? Lari Don

I am driven to write by questions – most of my books start with What If? and are powered by a constant stream of What Happens Next? So I carry bits of paper or notebooks with me all the time, everywhere, just in case a question pops into my head.

I usually welcome these questions, even when they arrive at inconvenient times and especially when they send stories in unexpected and challenging directions.

However, very occasionally, I resist these questions. The What If? that prompted my teen thriller Mind Blind arrived unexpectedly and inconveniently. So I scribbled it down, then pushed it to the back of my mind because I didn’t think I had the time, the skills or the desire to do it justice. But it kept pushing forward and demanding to be written, bringing a longer and more enticing line of What Happens Next? questions every time it reappeared. Eventually I gave in and started writing, and I’m really glad I did.

But I had an odd experience earlier this week. I was eating my breakfast and reading a wildlife magazine (I’m writing about hares, crows and toads at the moment, but my eyes sometimes slide off the domestic wildlife articles onto the bigger beasts like lions and tigers and bears...) And while I was reading an article about giraffes, I had a sudden What If?’ idea.

I considered the question for a moment. Then I realised that the story it was leading to was dystopian, sci fi, YA and dark. I don’t mind dark, I’m keen to write more YA, and I suppose you could class Mind Blind as sci fi, but I really really don’t want to write a dystopian book. We’ve already given every possible future world quite enough of those...

So I shrugged, turned the page in the magazine and took another spoonful of muesli. But the question, the thought, the idea, the story, wouldn’t go away. I could feel it. Rattling about in my head. Itching in my fingers. I couldn’t eat any more. I couldn’t concentrate on the next page. I had to write the idea down. I didn’t want to write the book but I felt compelled to scribble down the idea. I had to acknowledge the existence of the question, even if I never intended to answer it.

So I got my ideas notebook and I scribbled the question down. And suddenly all was well with the world. The question had moved from my head to my notebook, and even though I am 99% sure I will never follow it up, I had at least written it down.

But that felt a bit weird. As if I was being compelled, by an idea I didn’t even like, to write it down. To give it houseroom in my creative space.

My notebook is filled with questions and ideas for more books (books I do want to write!) than I will ever have time to write, so I suppose there is no harm in a book I don’t want to write sitting quietly in there.

But it was extremely odd sensation, that compulsion to give this question, this idea, this potential story, its moment. Even though I know I would never follow it through, I nevertheless had to write it down, just as I would with an idea I was excited about.

What was going on there?

Was it a worry that if I didn’t give this What If? question respect, I might block the flow of other (more useful) questions? I’m not a superstitious person, so I don’t think so.

Or was it a process thing, instead? This is what always happens: I have an idea, I write it down. So, when I have an idea, that’s just what I automatically need to do with it. Hmm. I don’t like admitting that I’m such a creature of habit.

But it’s probably better than believing that ideas have an independent and autonomous life of their own! Which could of course, lead to a potentially dark and dystopian future... (I’d better go and scribble that down...)

Lari Don is the award-winning author of more than 20 books for all ages, including a teen thriller, fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers. 


Penny Dolan said...

Always good to note an idea down, imo, or it might well get away even if you imagine you'll remember it. Sometimes ideas sit there for a very long time until they join up with other ideas and do become worth your time. Or just shrivel and die.

On the other hand, there are those people at parties who say things like "I've got a really great idea for a book. Maybe if we got together and I told you, then you could write the book and then we can share all the profits . . ." :-)

Lari Don said...

You're right Penny. I might not want to write this idea now, but sometime in the future it might meet up and mate with another idea, lose its dystopian setting, and suddenly become a story I really want to investigate. So that's probably why my brain insisted I write it down - the hope that it might be useful in the future even if it's not just now.