Hey folks, a guest blog from fellow writer Benjamin Tate, whose new book is about to hit the shelves. In it he discusses, among other things, one of my favorite Writing Tips: how all stories need two ideas before they come alive.
Thanks for having me guest blog here, today, and thank you all for stopping by to read this. As you all may know (or not), my name is Benjamin Tate and my first novel, WELL OF SORROWS, has just been released by DAW Books. It’s the first book in a trilogy, although it’s a self-contained story in and of itself. It deals with a young boy named Colin, who’s forced to become a refugee with his parents when war breaks out in his homeland. They flee across the ocean to the newly discovered continent on the far side . . . and there discover both beauty and danger as they set out to explore this strange new world.
One of the main questions every writer gets at some point in his/her career is the “where do you get your ideas from” question, and so I thought I’d use this guest blog to talk about where the idea for WELL OF SORROWS came from. If you check out my LiveJournal (benjamintate.livejournal.com), you’ll see a more general post I did about where my ideas for stories come from there. Mostly, it boils down to the fact that my ideas come to me typically while I’m writing a different story. Something interesting strikes me at the time, but it doesn’t fit into that story, so I set it aside and let it “ferment” and grow until it’s ready for its own story. If you’d like more about that idea, go check out my LJ. However, I don’t want to repeat myself, so in THIS post I’d like to talk about the specific genesis for WELL OF SORROWS.
As I said, my ideas come while writing other stories, so back about 15 years ago I was working on a different novel (as yet unpublished), and in that novel I had a group following a quest. (Yes, yes, I was young, all right? Cut me some slack. *grin*) During this quest they ran across a magical Well in the forest surrounded by intriguing ruins . . . all inhabited by a single man. Now, these ruins and this man didn’t have anything much to do with the quest the group was on, so after they had their little adventure in that forest and those ruins—where the man was forced to save them, but not until after a few of the characters got into some serious trouble of course—the group moved on.
But the Well, the man, and the ruins in the forest stuck with me. What was the magic of the Well? One of the characters was affected by it, so I had a little inkling of what the magic was all about, but no details, because the group had moved on. And the man . . . what was his story? How could he still be there, when it was obvious the ruins had been abandoned ages ago. Had he lived there? If so, why hadn’t he left? And what had happened to the people that had lived there? What had forced them to abandon their city, which was obviously more advanced than the cities of the current time period?
These were the ideas that began fermenting in my brain at the time. But I was caught up in the current quest story and so I set those ideas aside. But I knew that they were important, because I kept coming back to them. The Well in particular intrigued me, probably because it was the magical component to the entire setting . . . and I had an idea that the Well was the answer to all of the questions I had regarding the man, his history, and the history of the city itself. And I was right.
I sat down to write the backstory of the man: how he had come to be there, in that city, near that Well. The problem was . . . it was only a short story. At the time, the idea hadn’t had enough time to ferment, to set. All I knew at the time was how the boy who would become the man had been transformed by the magic of the Well. So I wrote that short story and then set the boy, the Well, and the city aside. It needed more time. And as I learned later, it needed something more—a second idea to pair with it.
I’ve discovered over the years that most of my novel ideas come in pairs. One idea isn’t enough to sustain an entire novel. For me, there needs to be a second idea woven into the first, and that gives me a strong enough story for something novel length. (Short story ideas are just one idea . . . perhaps still in search of the second.) So the man, the Well, and the city had to wait until I came up with their pair.
It took a long time for that second idea to arrive, but eventually it did. While working on yet another novel, it struck me that it would be very cool to write a fantasy novel about a world that the characters knew nothing about. This idea has been done before, of course. You have the character from our world traveling to a fantasy world and discovering the new world that way. You have the reverse—a fantasy character coming to our world. But I hadn’t read any fantasy novels where the characters of that fantasy world had discovered a new continent and set out to explore it. (I’ve since found some books like this, but thankfully none of them were anything like WELL OF SORROWS.) In this setting, there would be no one around who knew what/how the world, and in particular the magic, worked. The idea of exploring a whole new region intrigued me. But like the man, the Well, and the city, this idea needed a second half.
Which is when the old idea reared its head. The boy of that story had to arrive at the forest and the Well somehow, and the short story I’d written had him traveling there with his family in a wagon. The idea of covered wagons and their use in exploring the American West melded with the idea of exploring a whole new continent. All of a sudden, I had not only the boy and his family, but I had that family’s history: they were there to find new lands, a place to settle, a place to put down roots. They never expected to find . . . what they found . . . when they headed out onto the plains. And what they ran into drove them to that forest, to the Well, and to a destiny that the boy could never have imagined.
I suddenly had an idea for a novel. Not just a novel, but taking that beginning story and extending it, I could see an entire trilogy evolving. And thus was born the novel WELL OF SORROWS.
So that’s how WELL OF SORROWS came about, and it’s exemplary of how most of my novels come about. Well, that and a ton of time sitting in a chair at my computer writing. *grin* Ideas aren’t hard to come by, really. It’s the work that goes into getting down on paper that’s hard.
If you’d like to read more about WELL OF SORROWS, check out my webpage at www.benjamintate.com. And you can continue to catch tidbits about writing and life at my LiveJournal, benjamintate.livejournal.com. I hope this was at least mildly entertaining and thanks again for having me as a guest!