Welcome to the latest in the occasional Author FAQ series of posts, in which I answer questions I tend to get from time to time, both online and off, about this whole published-author thing. Check out the link for past entries in this little series. I have a few more in me that will likely come out over the next day or two.
How do you come up with ideas? How do you manage them?
With The Venusian Gambit, and thus the entire Daedalus series, officially written and done, I’ve begun focusing on what’s next, which makes this a good time to answer the above question, as I’m starting fresh once more. While I’m still not ready to talk about my next book(s), primarily because they’ve not been sold yet, I can certainly talk about how I do what I do.
First off, I have a lot of ideas. I tend to jot them down when they occur to me, whether in a notebook or on my phone. I have a running list of stuff I’d like to do, and I doubt I will ever get around to doing all of them. This is, of course, not a bad problem to have. It really isn’t a question of having ideas — if you’re an author, those ideas should be popping out of your brain matter all the time — it’s a question of finding the ones that have the best combination of passion and feasibility.
Passion, of course, is easy. There are ideas that are perfectly good but may not get you excited at the moment, whereas there are those ideas that feel life-changing when they occur and leave you thunderstruck. And…most ideas are somewhere in the middle. That’s fine. There’s only so much passion and creativity one can generate on a given day for a given idea. For me, if I keep thinking about an idea for days or weeks after I’ve jotted it down, I know I may be onto something. I’ve had the idea for my current project for a year and a half now, and it’s still exciting for me.
Feasibility is the more practical aspect. This is where I take off my creative writing hat and put on my twenty-years-of-media-and-marketing hat, and think about whether this is an idea worth doing in terms of selling books. Has it been done? Does it play to my strengths? Will it please current fans and help make new ones? What’s more, I tend to think about the time and effort involved. There’s a reason I haven’t done secondary-world epic fantasy yet, because that kind of worldbuilding is insanely intricate, whereas historical fantasy/paranormal allows me the real-world framework to build on.
Besides, I don’t have a good secondary-world epic fantasy idea yet, believe it or not. There are other things I’d like to do first, and many of them are in the same historical fantasy/paranormal wheelhouse I’ve worked in. I’m a big history buff, and I like to mash genres together. Thankfully, the passion and the feasibility overlap in those areas for me.
When I write down those ideas, they can be entire paragraphs of setting, a complete character sketch, or simply a “logline” that sums up the concept in a few words. Personally, I like it when an idea can be boiled down to a sentence or a logline, because it’s easily relatable to others. It took me a while to figure out how to summarize The Daedalus Incident, but then I realized I didn’t need a plot summary — I needed to get the idea across.
Thus, Daedalus is “Master and Commander in space.” Boom. If you’re not thinking of a frigate sailing in space, you don’t know your books (or movies). And if you don’t, “sailing ships in space” does the job almost as well.
I think the logline is a good way to test your concepts and ideas. Maybe you have a page of notes that need to be boiled down, or six words that need to be expanded. Either way, you should be able to get that idea down into a sentence. Again, it’s not a plot summary, but rather an evocative sentence that conveys the essence of what you might write about. A really good idea could lend itself to a couple different types of loglines.
Yes, my current project has several loglines, all which came to me very easily. That was a great sign for me. Once there’s some movement on the publishing end of things, I’ll be happy to revisit this and talk about the loglines for it. Stay tuned!