Monday, 9 December 2013

Ideas: Poppers, Growers and Oh My Godders! When novels are born

Ideas - the very foundations for everything that you will write.  Without them the writer is lost in the void, knowing he may have the skill and the patience to write a large body of work - if only he had an idea, just something to start the ball rolling.

Lots of people ask where they come from; how do you choose what you're going to write about.  Most of the time my answer is: I don't have any choice in the matter.  It is just what is.

So where do they come from?  It’s a good question, and a lot of the time I've actually forgotten where the original seed was gathered by the time I'm writing.  But I do think they can mostly be categorised into three varieties: those of the title - Poppers, Growers and Oh My Godders!

Poppers: the most frequent visitation I have from the beings that feed me with ideas.  I call them poppers because one moment there is nothing and the next moment they're there, staring at you.  It's as if they have always been there and it was actually you that had been ignoring them.  These moments seem to come about at any time, usually right in the middle of doing something mundane, like putting your shoes on, or cleaning your teeth, or trying to listen as someone you really can't be arsed to talk to tells you about their dear, poorly Grandma and why can't they just go away so I can write this down somewhere before I forget it, and…. shit…. what was that idea again?

And that's the trouble with Poppers; they're fragile little creatures; it's like when you find them, they're just surviving, like a bird that's fallen from the nest too young, and it comes to you, beak wide open, in the hope that you are its mother.  "Feed me!  Nurture me! Grow me!" it cries.  "I will if I can find a bloody pen and a scrap of paper to... ah there's one! Now what was that..." and it's off again.  Too late.

But that's the other thing about them: they are just snippets of things.  Usually for me they are images, as my mind works in a very visual way, but they just as likely may be a character - or part of; or a sentence; or a setting.  Anything really, but they are just the initial seed that greater stories come from, and they kind of fit in with Growers.

Growers are the long-standing ideas that your brain slowly and lethargically links together to weave a great web of intricate narrative.  Growers take the most time to nurture, but they reap the biggest reward.  Their generation is akin to a computer silently processing files in the background, and when they are done they pop up with a message telling you that the process is complete and you may look at the finished product now.

Growers are the novel makers, the ones that make your head nod with excitement when you're sitting alone, smile creeping into the corner of your mouth as the whole thing reveals itself.

Most of the time you have no idea that you've been thinking about these things; sometimes it can be an influence from years ago that just rears its head, and all that time it has just been sitting in the back of your mind, processing.  There is always the need for some sort of topiary with these ideas, though; like anything that has grown naturally, it is wild and needs to be tamed and shaped so it can be understood by the basic creature that we call human.

Oh My Godders are the rarest of ideas; they are so precious that a man may only be granted a limited few within his lifetime, and if they came too often, it would surely drive him mad with knowledge that he was abnormal, cast out of the realms of normal society, like a genius who couldn't find the switch to turn off his brain.

You see, Oh My Godders are fully fledged when they appear, and I suspect that their origins are similar to that of growers; but they offer no forewarning whatsoever, no root system to trace them back, no distinguishing marks on them at all to suggest their heritage: they are divine in their nature.

I have only had one of these... I wait for the next one.

And then of course there is the routine slog of bringing everyday life together to fill in the gaps, to make it real, to give the bone muscle so that the whole thing can move on its own and become something living; and that's still where most of my writing comes from - writing on the hoof, ideas popping out at you all of a sudden off the back of another one, and it can feel like you are just tapping into something that is already there, mining the ether of its long dead creatures that have turned to fuel...

And there comes another one...

So I'm going to find that pen and write this down.  I wish you all the best in your harvesting of ideas, whether they be Poppers, Growers or (gulp) Oh My Godders!

Good Luck.

Rob Sparkes is a writer and photographer currently living amongst the mountains of Cumbria.  He is seeking publication for his novel At the Water’s Edge, which is in its final stages of completion (  He also runs a blog that looks at the craft of writing, found at Rob is hungry most of the time.  

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