Monday, March 23, 2009

Eureka Moment

Over the weekend I had a Eureka Moment.

I've come to the conclusion I'm not like other novelists when it comes to getting "unstuck" on a plot point. You read books by novelists about how to push through such a difficult time; you hear novelists talk about it. In fact we discussed it here a few weeks ago, as I ran numerous novelists' responses to what they do when they "draw a blank." (Part I, Part II.) Every other writer seems to be able to get over a stuck period fairly quickly. Not I. For me, it can take weeks.

What do I do? I try to write what I do know in the meantime. I usually have more than one plotline going at once, so I'll work on one while I'm kicking cabinets about the other. I get stuck on major issues. I know my premise and my twists, and but I don't know always know how to reach a certain twist. I feel like I get lost in my own maze, with so many complexities in the plot. And no matter how much I'd love to just "push through," the answer will not come.

Part of my problem is that the answer has to be perfect. Every little moving part has to fit just right--motivation, means, an avenue for surprising my readers, etc. I may think of many ideas, but none of them works in all aspects. So I complain to my husband, kick more cabinets (okay, only metaphorically, but in my mind I kick 'em hard) and beg God for help. If I'm with other novelists, I'll knock around ideas with them. Sometimes this helps with a minor point or two. Often the ideas still won't fully click into what I already have.

And--I watch my taped crime shows every day. I can blitz through a taped hour show in about 40 minutes during a lunch break. These are the true crime shows on TV--Cold Case Files, Forensic Files, The Investigators, American Justice, American Greed, etc. (As I've mentioned before here, I never watch the TV crime dramas, because they're not true to life, and they skew my research.) Almost every suspense novel I've written contains some point--small to major--that has come to me as a result of watching these true crime shows.

Still, I may watch three weeks' worth of stories before something hits me like a brick over the head, and I cry, "Eureka!" I just never know when it'll happen. And once it does I always think, "Well, duh, why in the world couldn't I think of that before?" This is how my Eureka Moment occurred over the weekend.

Sometimes the Moment has nothing to do with watching a show. It just ... comes. While I'm ... living. For Crimson Eve, it happened when I realized I was standing in the very place I needed my protagonist to land in. Eureka! For Exposure it came when I was blow-drying my hair one morning. And the ending to Exposure--way better than the ending I'd planned--came when I was driving somewhere with my husband. I wasn't even thinking about the book, then--wham! I flashed on a vision of the final scene. Eureka! For Violet Dawn--well, you know that infamous story. It came when I climbed into our dark hot tub one night. And on it goes.

Once I finally get all my answers and write the book, I naturally work to make everything read as smoothly as possible. By the time the story's rewritten and ready to print, I can read it and think, "How else could this story have been told? Of course everything had to happen just this way." And again I wonder why on earth it took so long to get it all straight in my mind, when now it's so obvious. But that's the challenge and wonder of a completed novel, isn't it. Making the story read easily (albeit tense, exciting and twisting) requires a lot of very hard work.

People ask me all the time, "Where do you get your ideas?" (This is typically after reading one or more of my novels and wondering at the vast warpness of my brain. [If "warpness" isn't a word, it should be.]) My answer? "Life." Life. It's that simple and that complicated. A novelist needs to live life to the fullest. And somewhere in those moments--whether odd, mundane, or extraordinary--a Eureka Moment bursts wide open.

My idea of Heaven is experiencing such moments every day rather than having to wait weeks for them.


Blinky St. James said...

Interesting! Sometimes parts of stories come to me when I'm just sitting and spacing out, sometimes while I'm reading or watching TV...

Anonymous said...

I do that too sometimes! Especially when I am mowing the lawn or taking a shower.

BTW, I also love your idea of heaven. That's a very satisfying concept for me too.

Domino said...

I need a sidekick! I get those Eureka moments while I'm driving. I don't want to pull over and write down my thoughts and phoning my answering machine is not a good idea while I'm driving. If I had a sidekick, I could dictate the ideas OR have the sidekick drive me around and I'll write down those great ideas when I get them.

For right now, I'll continue thinking about the Eureka moment all the way to wherever I was driving and then write it all down.

Pam Halter said...

I hate it when I get a great idea while driving. I have to repeat it over and over until I can stop and write it down. I really need one of those small, hand-held dictating recorders.

The funniest place I get ideas is in church during the sermon. HA! I scribble it down on the bulletin and imagine people think I'm taking notes on the message. My husband knows what I'm doing and he only smiles.

Sharon Ball said...

Eureka moments are so awesome. I guess that's part of why they're so special. The sheer impact of them is breath-taking. I recently had a Eureka moment when the light finally turned on and I was able to put into practice writing in deep POV. Right before the light came on I whined to my husband about how I intellectually understood it, but struggled with writing it consistently. Oh how I praise God for showing me the light!

Robert Parrish said...

Yep, sounds familiar. Thanks, Brandilyn, for letting us into your warpness!

Rita Gerlach said...

A lot of my ideas come to me in the middle of the night. I wake up and a mental image of a scene, or a plot, comes into my mind and I have to get out of bed and write it all down in the dark so not to wake my husband.

I don't write suspense or crime fiction, but I do love crime shows PBS produces, such as Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Morris and Lyndly. Prime Suspect with Helen Mirren was fantastic.

johnny dangerous said...

Ideas arrive for me in those "in between times", times of transition - showering, just getting into bed for the night, sometimes driving. Those are somewhat unguarded moments when the sub-conscious kicks in. But the moment has to be prepared for, I think, with some research or mulling over possibilities. The right one emerges when I'm not thinking so hard about it. Then I need to write it down on an index card.