On page 15 of Story Alchemy, I make the case for the author having a personal affinity for the story s/he is going to write. Here’s what I say:
What is crucial in all this is that the idea must be your own and something that intrigues you. This conflict must come from within you, and interest in it then is the reason you’ve selected it above all other possibilities. This “affinity” will have implications downstream. Without that personal connection, it’s doubtful that the idea has the relationship to you and your psychological makeup so important during the difficult task of imagining the material to flesh out the story.
Writing someone else’s story may work, but it’s a sure bet that it’ll be more difficult to find that creative force within you that generates the material. Agents are famous saying they can’t sell your stuff, but if you’d just write such-and-such they could. Agents believe that’s what it means to be a professional. Writer’s should write what sells. They can be so clueless concerning the nature of the creative process. That’s why so many of us write on our own and take our chances. We write what we have to write because we can do aught else.
Which brings me to the reason for this post. I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a novel set in 17th century London. Why would I do that? It was a dream that triggered the idea. Here’s what I wrote as soon as I woke from the dream:
02:15 am. I just woke from a dream of having found a book about the Philosopher’s Stone, not the one in my book Story Alchemy, but a different book about the “real world” Philosopher’s Stone that turns lead into gold and gives eternal life. The problem was that the book seemed to be corrupted. And I do believe it was a digital book. I was putting it back right, fixing the text, but when I came to the part where it revealed the secret behind the Philosopher’s Stone, the book skipped a page as I went forward. When I went back, it skipped back two pages, so that I still didn’t get to learn the secret. And that’s the way it remained. I could learn everything but the actual secret itself.
This dream not only got me to thinking about a concept for a new novel, it immediately hooked up with some research I’d done several years ago for a non-fiction book I was writing but never finished. Somehow the material was still seeking an outlet, and perhaps the fictional route was what it intended all along. Anyway, I immediately thought of a 17th century historical novel set in London. The digital book of my dream seemed to be a copy of a very old book on the Philosopher’s Stone. I already had a couple of characters in mind, not a protagonist or an antagonist, but turns out they were just around the corner.
Here’s the curious thing. I’ve never wanted to write a novel set in 17th century London. Yet this story just will not leave me alone. Particularly at night, the story comes to me unbidden, and before I know it, I’ve been ruminating over it for an hour or so. It keeps building, characters stepping forward, plot points materializing, settings popping into view. Even during the day, I find myself researching some aspect of the time period with google and Wikipedia. I can’t shut it off. Last night it kept bugging me, and I thought I was never going to get any sleep. Looks like I’ll have to write it, and I don’t really get a say so.
I’m not ready to reveal the plot line as yet, and I probably won’t until I’m finished writing it, which will probably be a couple of years. But I will keep you up to date on my progress. I just wanted to reinforce the point that the “affinity” we have for a story can be, and usually is, crucial to a successful creative endeavor.