Diane Chamberlain and I have been chatting back and forth for the past two weeks, covering subjects like how to present “unsympathetic” characters sympathetically, character growth and change, whether characters become real to us, and more. If you missed the previous posts, you can scroll down here for my portions, and visit Diane’s blog, as well, to find the whole conversation. Today we’re concluding with some questions our blog readers have asked along the way.
As a special treat everyone who commented on either of our blogs is eligible for a book giveaway. Diane’s Summer’s Child, and my Sunset Bridge. We’ll let random.org choose our winners on Sunday, and you have until Saturday midnight to comment.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our back and forth. We thought it would be a fun way for you to get to know us and our books, and your comments have affirmed that. Diane and I always enjoy a good conversation, so we’re glad we could share this one with you.
Here’s our final portion of that conversation.
Diane: Meredith also asked a “non-character-specific” question I’ll turn over to you, Emilie: “How do you get started on a book?” Since you and I are nearly ready to start our next novels, that’s a good question!
Emilie: Story ideas come from the oddest places. A snippet of conversation. A glimpse of someone’s life. I’m particularly fond of creating books from titles–which is why I hate to have mine changed by my publishers. Once the glimmer of an idea presents itself, I let it simmer. Often two ideas collide at the same time and turn out to be meant for each other, even though it wasn’t love at first sight. Once I have enough to play with, I spend time considering possibilities, jotting them down into what I call my “Scenes and Revelations” file, in no particular order. Eventually that assumes the shape of an outline or a synopsis, and I’m in business.
Diane, do you work differently?
Diane: Emilie, I think I do work in a similar fashion, and what strikes home for me in what you said is “two ideas collide at the same time.” I love taking two diverse ideas and seeing what happens when I throw them together. My favorite example is The Escape Artist. I had two ideas: 1) a woman on the run with her little son, and 2) a woman buys a used computer and discovers information on it that must go to the police. When I turned those women into one woman–she’s on the run, so she can’t go to the police–I had a real story.
On my blog, Sheree asked us if we worry about a strong character from someone else’s story creeping into our own writing. What do you think?
Emilie: I do know writers who refuse to read fiction when they’re writing, for that very reason, but that means I wouldn’t be able to read at all. I do try to make sure I’m not reading similar material. For instance, I’ve never read any of Jennifer Chiavarini’s quilt series, simply because I don’t want to worry about inadvertently absorbing material or characters from her work to use in my own quilt series.
I think we filter everything we write through our own experiences, so even if something about someone else’s character resonates for us and we find ourselves isolating that quality and playing with it, whatever we come up with is unique.
Same or different for you? And let’s finish with one more reader’s question, asked by Anne on your blog. When you’re writing one book, do you have your next book in mind, or do you wait until you have a finished project before thinking about your next?
Diane: I handle reading other fiction exactly the way you do, Emilie. I’m writing about North Carolina’s Eugenics Program right now, and a reader told me one of Jodi Picoult’s books dealt with a eugenics program as well, so I avoid that book like the plague, not wanting to be influenced in any way. As to Anne’s question, I don’t seem able to hold two book ideas in my mind at the same time. I usually finish one and then open my mind to whatever the universe hands me as my next idea. How about you?
Emilie: Sometimes an idea will occur to me and I’ll find it draining my enthusiasm for the work in progress. So to avoid that, I’ll write down my thoughts so I can let go of them and know they won’t be forgotten. Often when I’ve finished and go back to my notes, I find the idea was more of a diversion than a credible story in the making. Of course there are some good ideas, too, that never will get written simply because there aren’t enough hours in the day.
Which you know, Diane. Time’s always key, isn’t it? But we can always make time for a chat like this one.
Diane and I both thank you for reading along with us.