Because the voices say so

It’s funny, but a lot of people tend to ask writers: where did you get your inspiration? Where do your ideas come from? And various other questions in that vein.

The thing is … for most writers, this is as strange a question as: so what made you write this?

By and large in all of those cases, the answer boils down to “The voices said so.”

Sometimes, yes, we do have some stimulus that gets us to thinking in a particular direction. Now & Forever was born because I read a sweet, happy romance at around the same time I noticed that there was an acute lack of such stories featuring a same sex romantic pair as the main protagonists. Oh, they exist, and in more abundance since that point, but it’s irrelevant. That made me think of writing such a romance. The rest came down to, Lauren and Sally asked me to write their story.

Writers’ inspiration, by and large, is the same as any artist, I should think. Life. We look around at life and ask What If, or Why Not – thus we write various fictions, especially speculative. We look around and we see things we wish to point out – thus is born things like satire. We have a feeling, and we wish to share it – thus is born Romantic fiction (not to be confused with romance fiction, which is a sub-category of this). But in all it’s life, and voices.

The voices are the characters. They’re visions of people, and of places. Sometimes we try to guide the voices, but mostly they guide us. We just have to be quick at taking dictation.

Yes, some authors do construct stories. They build dialogue. They think long and hard about the nature of plot and such. Those people seem, most of the time (in my experience at any rate) to favour literary fiction, a genre whose purpose I’ve yet to fathom. Some do write romances, mysteries, SF, westerns, or horror. Seemingly, though, of a literary nature, or of a completely ephemeral and throw away nature.

All the authors people really seem to dig, the stories that seem to resonate with the most readers, though, those are the ones where things are described as a period of discovery. We learn about our characters, we become friends or enemies with them. We witness the births of cultures, the deaths of races. We see the whole tapestry of events unfold with each stroke of the pen or press of a key. The inspiration particles sleet through our brains, and when we’re feeling particularly receptive to them the words flow like water that has just burst its dam and threatens to flood us to forgetting all but the story – sometimes it happens. These are the authors who might say things like “I want to know what happens next” (Louis L’Amour).

Good or bad. I’m not saying that believing your characters are living, breathing beings somewhere, or anything of that sort, will make you the next Jo Rowling or Neil Gaiman. Talent, the ability to take that inspiration and shape it and forge it into a solid tale, engrossing and engaging, that matters at the end of the day as much or more.

My other point is, for every one person for whom their character is nought but a cog in some literary device – no more real and alive than a transistor (and all too often, in my reading, with as much personality and ability to garner the sympathies of the reader) – there are a dozen or so who talk of their story or their characters as a thing alive that has an either parasitic or symbiotic relationship with the author’s psyche and mind.

I, personally, think this always shows in writing. Even a talented, skilled, brilliant author whose story isn’t a living thing won’t shine as well as the person with only mediocre skill and so-so talent whose story is like unto a living thing. It’s in the language of critics and fans alike. The tales of Oz or the adventures of the young Miss Alice, sailing the high seas with Long John Silver or Captain Nemo, slaying vampires with Van Helsing or slaying orcs with Arylin and Danilo all can be said to come alive. Maybe it’s because the story, in some way IS alive and was so for the author and now is so for the reader. Just as the purely mechanical – all technique and no heart – writing of the literary purist might be no more alive than a machine, no more soul than a desk fan, and thus as it had no life for the writer it has no life for the reader.

I could be wrong. I know how I write, and I know what it looks like when my favourite writers talk about writing. I know what I see on the rare occasions where I venture into internet discussion forums (which, on those rare occasions I do so, do tend to be writer’s forums). I wonder … can corollaries be true? Can a story that was alive and vibrant in the author’s mind find death and mechanical lifelessness once written? Can something born of technique and lifeless prose tell a story alive and vivid to the reader? I wonder if you could tell; would the formerly alive have the feeling of a corpse? Would the lifeless machine that has come to life still show signs of having once been the prose equivocal of a little wooden boy? Ah well, I suppose in the fullness of time anything is possible.

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