Wednesday, June 25, 2008

From Everywhere and Plot Soup

X-posted over at theTri Mu blog.
Every time I’ve attended a session where an author opens the floor to questions from the public, someone inevitably raises their hand and asks “Where do you get your ideas?” These few words almost always produce a pained look on the author’s face, and even I have learned to cringe. Sometimes the author laughs it off, but when pressed to answer, she typically says, “Everywhere.” This answer rarely satisfies, despite its validity, and the author knows this, but how else can she answer and still have time to address other questions?

Defining an author as someone who has at least one published book and a writer as someone who has completed a manuscript but has not been published, I can only attest to the truth of the statement of ‘everywhere’ as a writer. Everything a writer/author sees, reads, and hears and everyone she meets gets thrown into the plot soup in the back of her head. Since that is such an unsatisfying answer, I’ll give you some examples of ‘everything/everywhere’ from the last couple days.

--My office was broken into over the weekend. While this is a distressing event, the writer part of me noted several things in an almost detached way throughout the cops arriving and doing their thing. Two big details that stuck with me: the CSI wearing bright purple gloves and the fact we had to clean up the fingerprint dust after they left. I tossed these details into the plot soup.

--Last night, when my family gathered for our weekly dinner, we were talking and my brother jokingly said, “You mean there were girls before highschool?” Definite plot soup material.

--Yesterday one of the grad students was in the hospital. Today he is out, smiling and exuberant. When asked about it, he says he has a prominent ‘dumb gene’. I think it’s more an excessive sense of adventure, but boy is he interesting—into the plot soup he goes.

--I was recently introduced to the music of Kerli, a young singer about to release her debut album. Her voice it dark and haunting, and the video for Walking on Air is very shiny. The emotions her music evokes in me? Tossed right into the plot soup.

--Sunday morning my Labrador chased off a coyote, and I dashed after him, trying to call him back. Oh yeah, and I was barefoot in a cloud robe. Plot soup.

--A friend sent me an article the other day about feet washing up on a Canadian shore. No other body parts, just feet. Weird. Plot soup.

I could go on, but these are a good sampling of the random tidbits from the last three days. They are all just little bits of this and that collected and stored away for later use. Everyday writers collect things that are tossed into the plot soup. There they simmer, mix, and change. When she needs an idea, a scene, a plot, a detail, or a character trait, she calls on that plot soup, dips in her ladle and pulls out what she needs. It probably no longer resembles what it went in as, and she shapes it to her needs, so the idea really is a product of everything encountered.

What tidbits have you added to your plot soup recently?


madkestrel said...

Definitely the expanding dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. It's creepy and fascinating and simply must mean more than it seems.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha. xD Well, I know where that bit about the Canadian feet ended up... GRAVE DANCE. x)