by Saralee Rosenberg
What is the most FAQ I am asked as a novelist?
“Do you know Danielle Steele?” Yes, of course. I'm a frequent guest at her chateau in Paris...
My standard spiel is that my inspiration comes from personal experience, news stories, obituaries, natal charts, character bios, long showers and laughing gas (no joke).
But the better question, the more insightful question, the question I don’t hear often enough is how do I know which ideas are worth pursuing and which ones are not?
Like every thoroughbred writer, I have drawers full of possibilities- seeds of ideas, pages of notes, scribbled outlines, hopeful chapters, and half-finished manuscripts. But which ideas get born? Ultimately I gravitate towards the stories that scare the hell out of me because that's where all the emotional truth is hiding.
No point following the yellow brick road if I can’t pull back the curtain on the wizard.
But how do I move from proposal to marriage? All too often the market dictates direction. If enough agents and/or editors take a pass, that can be a daunting obstacle. But for me, the more likely reason to break the engagement is because I have fallen out of love with my protagonist.
Either she bores me, annoys me or fails to keep me up nights. In other words, her dire circumstances have to be so compelling that I must find out know how her story ends.
And therein lays the second factor in deciding whether to hold or fold. I must also fall in love with the inciting incident. I need to know that I’ve poured the fuel that propels the story into a stratosphere my poor protagonist never saw coming. This incident has to be so life changing, so knee deep in conflicts and so wildly entertaining that I can take off in numerous directions.
But which direction? It has to be a mystery for me or it won't be to my reader!
So where do those great turning point ideas come from? Two words-- what if?
Of my four published novels, my favorite inciting incident emerged in CLAIRE VOYANT. What if an elderly stranger collapsed and died on the tray table of a beleaguered actress, only to discover that he may not have been a stranger after all?
I had the best time building a novel around this simple premise and looking back I can see the divine inspiration. I was less the writer than the designated typist.
And now I am enjoying a similar lightening strike with my work-in-progress, a middle grade novel called HOTLINE TO HEAVEN. I am riveted by my young heroine’s pursuit to find her voice and learn to trust her instincts when her life encounters more corkscrews than a ride on the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. “Walk This Way” indeed.
But inspiration alone doesn’t guarantee anything if the writing isn’t solid. So I toil every day hoping that my brainstorms find happiness with the plucky protagonist and that her story keeps me entertained and enlightened. After all, how can I expect to engage readers if I don’t even have an audience of one?
I’ve been meaning to talk to my good friend Danielle about this. I’m sure she would agree.
Saralee Rosenberg is the author of A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE, CLAIRE VOYANT, FATE AND MS. FORTUNE and DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD (All from Avon/HarperCollins). Visit her website www.saraleerosenberg.com