Come back in time with me to November 2005. I’m 17 years old, a senior in high school, and I’m determined to win Nanowrimo for the second time. I start writing a fantasy novel about a young woman named Grace Ellengreen. She’s the daughter of the king’s general but she has a secret crush on a noble named Dar. He’s the dark, mysterious, and secretive type. He may or may not have been based on an ex-boyfriend of mine named Dan.
I won that month, but I lost about half of the very first draft of Promising Light. (Although back then, it didn’t have a title.) A few basic elements of Promising Light were in the first draft: Dar is from a magical family (though I couldn’t decide what the magic was all about), Grace is kidnapped and used by other people, and both Dar and Prince William have a thing for Grace. Other stuff remains too like Sierra’s connections with Dar’s family and Sashe’s role as the king’s mistress.
Fast forward a couple years later: 2008. I’m 19 and engaged, living in the same town but only after spending a year in Hawaii and a summer in the Marshall Islands. I think to myself, ‘Hey, that story Promising Light was really cool. It’s too bad I lost about half of it to flash drives that ended up in the washer, but gosh darn it, I’m going to rewrite it!’ So that’s what I do. I get about halfway through, but I have a few fatal problems: 1) I can’t decide what exactly Dar’s family does in way of magic and 2) I don’t have a plan. That kind of ties in to the other theme that we have this week. I used to be a pantser, but now I’m a plotter.
So now we’re in 2011. I’m living in a different city, married for a couple years now, and much more serious about my writing. I give the story an outline and new life. I decide that Dar’s family are shape changers. I decide they can change into anything, thanks to limyaael. I keep a lot of things from the first couple drafts (the curse where women can’t give birth, Sierra and Evan’s reuniting) and I also add a lot of things. I add the ancient texts because I wanted there to be another possible way to break the curse aside from Lisbeth’s vision. I add more magical families because I thought it would be fun and change the dynamics of the story if there are more than just shape changers involved. I finish the novel within a couple months and started revising it, then I self-published it in January of this year.
Where did it all come from? This is one of the hardest questions to answer. I honestly don’t know. My brain just spits out imaginary situations and characters and ideas. I am full of them. I think part of it is being observant and remembering things I’ve watched and seen and read. I’m not sure who said it (a few say Picasso, some say T.S. Eliot) but I live by the quote, “Good artists borrow; great artists steal.”
Some people see this as plagiarism, but actually, plagiarism is taking word-for-word passages. One can’t copyright an idea. An imaginary situation can’t belong to one person. It’s kind of in the public domain. Details, like characters and places, you could probably get into trouble with.
Another part of it is just imagination. The other day I was drawing up a bunch of writing prompts for a new feature on my blog. I was at a bar as my husband’s band played, and I just looked around at all the people, imagining their lives. Maybe she’s cheating on her husband. Maybe he’s got a gambling problem. Maybe they’re going to elope next week to avoid their crazy family.
I suppose this post kind of answers the question and kind of doesn’t. It shows the progression of Promising Light but not exactly the origin of each facet of the story. The brain of a writer just isn’t an easy place to navigate.