Hi guys, thanks so much for having me here! This is my first post, so I thought I’d talk a bit about how I came up with the idea for The Department of Lost and Found because, I think, stumbling on and developing the right idea is half the battle when it comes to writing smart (and good!) fiction.
As I’ve mentioned on my own blog, I think it’s helpful to craft a story with which you have some level of familiarity, at least when it comes to commercial fiction. (I can’t even begin to imagine where someone like Stephen King gets his ideas, because, well, I’ll assume that he’s never encountered a little girl who could burn down houses when she gets angry or a car that turned into a killer-machine, so keep in mind that I’m not talking about paranormals or sci-fi or whatever.) Why is it helpful to have some familiarity or some personal tie to said subject? Well, I think it not only boosts the energy of your writing, but it also enables you to create a sense of realism because you truly can visualize your characters in the situations that you’re creating.
Now. I know. You’re shouting, “Well, my husband doesn’t have to cheat on me for me to be able to write a poignant story about infidelity.” Of course not. That’s not what I’m saying. But if you’re one of those blessed (and unusual) folks who have never suffered through a painful breakup or unrequited love or complicated romantic entanglement, maybe writing about infidelity isn’t your best move simply because you wouldn’t have much emotional experience from which to draw.
Let me clarify by using a more personal example: how I came up with the idea for TDLF.
Two and a half years ago, one of my best friends was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. My friend was a formidable force of nature – a whirlwind of a woman who juggled more things in a week with ease than most of us can even fathom tackling in a year. Cancer, however, was not one of those things. And she lost her battle with it just six months later, leaving behind an infant daughter and a string of grieving friends and family. While I was prepared for the loss, I still didn’t know where to put my grief or really how to cope. So what I did was write. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote until three months later, my manuscript was complete, and TDLF was born. I wrote about a headstrong woman who battled cancer – that was the germ of the idea – and then I spun it into an entirely fictitious place, a place that had nothing to do with my friend or her experience.
To get back to my earlier point, I wasn’t the one who had cancer. But I did have personal experience with the disease, enough so that it imbued my writing with a sense of urgency and energy and knowledge. And because I created the book from such an intimate place, I was able to delve into emotional reserves that others might not have been able to.
The old catchphrase is “to write what you know.” And honestly, I still think it’s true. Your story doesn’t have to (and actually shouldn’t) mirror your life, but by being able to draw on some life experience and pull that emotional gravity into your work, your writing, and thus, your readers, will be better served.