Well... When your left-brain and your right-brain love each other very, very much…
Ideas are like love.
A new idea is exciting and seductive and those early weeks of exploring the concept and the characters are like the best of obsessional, chemical, infatuation. An engaging, exhilarating, thrilling, exploration. It takes discipline and commitment not to be seduced away from your rock-solid, dependable work-in-progress to dally with the shiny, fresh, eyelash-batting idea. If it all goes wrong you’ll be gutted, but if it all goes right you feel invincible. Like you’ve finally struck a future New York Times bestseller.
But if you do manage to resist, then you move your idea into the grounding phase, where you get to grow your idea into a premise. Give it structure. Go deeper. Root out the foibles and examine them. This is where you make a practical assessment as to the sense in continuing forward. Are there challenges in the premise? Are they worth enduring? Is the concept strong enough? Or is it too big a commitment given the scope of the narrative flaws you’ve identified?
Some idea-relationships end here. Sometimes there’s just too much going against a good idea. Sometimes bad things happen to good premises.
But...others move forwards to formalise their writer/idea partnership. The idea decides the foibles of the writer are acceptable and the writer is confident they can work through the challenges of the idea. They engage in a sensuous, serpentine dance deep in the writer’s psyche and the tiny genesis of a story is spawned. Story gestates in the writer’s sub-conscious and grows into scenes, then chapters. Like multiplying cells it takes form on the page, the author never quite knowing what it’s going to look like when it fully emerges.
At birth, the story is the purest it will ever be. Before the realities of commercial life and structural milestones start shaping it (is its beginning engaging enough? Do its characters interact sufficiently? Has its voice come in?). Your little story grows into a complex being—running, playing, falling, winning, learning—until it’s ready for school. Ready to enter the big, bad world of competitive assessment and rigid curricula. Ready for its own peg in the fictional hallway.
Over the next phase it gets shaped and tweaked and revised and polished until it is as homogenous but as unique as it can possibly be. Different but the same. Fresh but within convention. Story adolescence is every bit as confusing and overwhelming as the human one where the story has no clear idea why it’s not fitting, just a fatalistic belief that it is not.
Until one day it graduates. On full scholarship. Plucked from class early in its senior year and advanced unexpectedly to the hallowed halls and stunning old architecture of Publication College. And everything it has learned counts for nothing. It’s back to being a babe on the steepest learning curve there is. Just when it thought it had a handle on the world. And its author parent frets and frowns and works with the story as best it can to help it remain competitive but, ultimately, recognizes that the story now belongs to a group of strangers who set the rules and determine the grades.
This severing is an important phase for the author because it prepares them for story’s final transition. Into a public entity. This is where the story that they remember as a glinting, unformed idea goes out and meets the world. Meets a reader. The reader who is destined for them. The reader who has been waiting their whole life for this story to come along.
And the parent author lets go, looks to the staggered brood of ideas, premises and stories coming up through the ranks behind Story and helps them be the best they can. As good as their older sibling, Story, if not better.
So… in case anyone ever asks you. That’s where stories come from.
I'm always battle off exciting new ideas and having to force myself to stay focussed. Right now I'm supposed to be doing revisions on my last submitted book but all I can think about is my new characters who I had to abandon two chapters in when the revisions came through. Motivation to go faster or just plain torture... you tell me.
Is it the same when you're reading? Is a new book the hardest to put down in the first third? When you're falling in love with the characters and learning about their world? Or is it later once you've committed to your relationship with them?