Origins of an idea

I’ve subscribed recently to Backstory, a blog that gathers together authors’ stories about where specific pieces of writing came from (mostly novels, a few short story collections). Although I haven’t heard of a lot of the authors, and many are outside of my normal interests, it’s always a good read.

Inspired by that, I remember the initial idea from years ago that has turned into the novel I’m currently working on, Dreams of a Shaper. I was recently out of high-school and working evenings at a local grocery store. During the slow periods, this gave a lot of time for thinking. I was in the midst of drafting a fantasy novel at the time, but the current project rarely keeps me from running down other ideas when they seem interesting.

I wanted to write something that took place in the real world, fairly present day. However, I am at my heart a sci-fi and fantasy reader, so it couldn’t just rest there. I began with a standard (one might even say clichéd) concept–what would it be like if people were hiding among us, in plain sight, who had tremendous powers? What if they were able to meld the fabric of space, bend it to their will, teleport massive distances, move objects.

I could see it now–a college student is approached by an older, grandfatherly gentleman, who reveals to him the ability that is just now blossoming for the young man. The gentleman becomes his mentor, teaching him how to use this fantastic ability. Perhaps he goes to a school where people, even aliens, gather from everywhere to hone their skills in shaping space.

But what would happen then if a crisis hit, an invasion from outside of our typical, 3d universe. The young man is drawn into this conflict, along with his friends, as they fight for the existence of everything we know.

I played with this idea for several days, coming up with characters, or world details, messing around with them in my mind. It’s always good for me to stew a while on the longer ideas I want to write, because many things that at first blush seem great start to creak after just a few hours more contemplation. That’s what happened here–I realized how comic-book-ish, space opera, clichéd and boring the whole thing was. I’d spent a couple days building this world in my mind, and when I stepped back I found out that the whole thing sucked.

Well, almost all of it. One small piece, the kernel of the idea stuck with me. It was easy to jettison all the characters and settings I’d develop, but that concept of bending, weaving, shaping the fabric of space, I couldn’t shake it. That alone survived, although it wasn’t enough on its own. Later, when I mixed that idea with another (shapers are unusually long-lived, but condemned to madness as they age) I suddenly had a live one on my hands.

Often times, authors (myself included) like to act as if all story ideas just come at you, fully formed out of some dark, mysterious place. It’s happened to me, and don’t get me wrong, it’s a wondrous feeling. But don’t be discouraged if your initial, fabulous inspiration kind of starts to teeter a few steps down the road. Keep thinking, salvage what’s good, and keep writing!