Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Mental Fanfic

I think I'm back to being moderately coherent. To give you an idea of how tired I must have been yesterday, I turned out my light and went to sleep by 10:30 last night and slept until 8 this morning. The heat isn't helping. Summer hit us hard and fast. After a summer of below-normal temperatures (I barely used my air conditioner before July), we suddenly got the 100+ temperatures without a lot of transition. The heat wave is supposed to break and get back to "normal" for this time of year this weekend, which will be a relief. Before now, it hasn't really felt like summer. I haven't even been to the swimming pool yet (though a lot of that is because they're renovating it now -- but even so, most of this year it wouldn't have been warm enough for me to brave an unheated pool).

So, the convention. I had a good time, got to meet some very cool people, spent some time with other people I knew and don't see often, and I even learned a lot. It was one of those cases where everything just fell into place so that the information I needed that was relevant to what I'm working on was all there for me at exactly the time I needed it. I love it when that happens. It gives me the sense that I'm on the right path. I got to moderate a panel on character archetypes, which was fun and interesting to hear what the other authors thought about it. I found out later that James P. Hogan was in the audience, which would have been kind of intimidating if I'd known.

Of course, I also came home with a long list of things to read, right at a time when I don't dare start reading things I'm likely to get into. You see, I have this mental fanfic problem. I'm sure I'm not alone in this, and from what I've heard, this goes on with a lot of writers because it's sort of what kicks off the writing bug. Whenever I get really into a book, TV series, movie, or whatever, my brain gets involved and isn't satisfied with what I've been given, so it starts mentally writing more stories about those people -- further adventures, previous adventures, what was happening between scenes, etc. That was how I amused myself as a kid when I was bored on long car trips, when I was having trouble sleeping and couldn't turn the light on to read, when I zoned out in class, etc. Later I found myself branching off so that I was thinking more about the new characters I'd created to interact with the characters I was borrowing, and then I realized that if I wrote those stories down instead of just daydreaming, I'd have a book.

But just because I've written my own books, it doesn't mean the brain has stopped with the mental fanfic/daydreaming. I can't seem to help myself. I just want to create more and more adventures for characters I like. That's why I have to be careful about what I read and watch when I'm in the early phase of developing a book. It can be counterproductive if I'm more excited about dreaming up adventures for someone else's characters than I am about dreaming up adventures for my own characters. I've been trying to analyze what it is about some books that tends to inspire the mental fanfic -- because I want to put whatever that is in my own books so people will get them stuck in their heads. But there isn't that much of a pattern. I find that it doesn't happen with chick lit novels, as much as I love them. I never find myself dreaming up more adventures for Bridget Jones (aside from thinking of how she'd describe certain events that happen to me -- so I guess that kind of counts). I'd say that I mostly do it for series because that gives you the sense of ongoing adventures and there's stuff that could happen between books/movies/episodes, but it's not always the case. I've done the mental fanfic thing for a few standalone books, or for first books in a series when I don't even know there is a series to come. Most of it tends to fall in the fantasy/science fiction realm, but I have done it with mysteries or war stories, too.

The common elements seem to be that it requires a world I want to play in and people I want to spend more time with. When I was a kid, I tended to latch onto female characters about my age, but now I'm more likely to focus on male characters (with a few exceptions). Sorry, folks, but I'm generally not imagining the smutty stuff. It really does tend to be more adventures that wouldn't be out of place in the actual series/books, or else the quiet scenes that wouldn't make it into the series/books for reasons of pacing more than content -- what I call the "doing laundry" scenes that show what these characters' normal lives are like when they aren't having adventures. I may occasionally get 'shippy if a relationship intrigues me, but the part I then play with mentally is the development of it rather than the sweaty part.

So, I guess the crucial ingredients include a world where more things can happen, characters I don't want to let go of and want to learn more about, intriguing developing relationships (or the potential thereof), and the sense that there is room for more stories to happen (which may be why I don't generally do this for romance novels, except maybe for minor characters I find interesting, since those stories are usually pretty much tied up neatly at the end of each book). And right now, those are the kinds of books I can't allow myself to read. I'm supposed to be doing that kind of thinking for my own characters.

I'm curious, does anyone else do this (or am I insane)? And what are the kinds of things that tend to capture your imagination like this so that you're still thinking about the characters long after you finish reading the book? Any particular books and series that most inspire the daydreaming?

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