I now know why I've been in such a fog for the past week. I've been gestating an idea! Last night as I was getting ready for bed, all the daydreaming I've been doing lately solidified into a real story idea, complete with worldbuilding and characters, even scenes and bits of dialogue. Oddly, that then shut off the worst of the daydreaming because it focused it into planning and cut off all the odd little tangents that had sprung up. This one is going to take a ton of research, so it may not be the next thing I write. I may have to set up my working schedule to do research on this story for a couple of hours a day and write on something else for a couple of hours a day. It's also going to be a real challenge because it hits at one of my main points of weakness as a writer: my impatience.
I think some of that comes from my broadcast journalism background, where the priority was to get it done on time, and then you made it as good as you could in that timeframe. It was a badge of honor to get back to the station less than half an hour before airtime and still be able to get a story written and the tape edited in time to get it in the newscast. You got more praise for being able to pull that off than you got for having perfectly written prose. And I think it also comes from my tendency to go all or nothing, where the story just pours out of me, and that part is fun, but then making it the best I can be requires more detail-oriented work than I usually enjoy. On the book I'm revising now, while some of the changes I need to make came as a complete surprise, some of them were nagging doubts in the back of my head, but I ignored them because I just wanted to be done. One thing that's taking me so long on the section I'm revising is that the impatient part of my brain thinks it should be done, but my internal editor knows it's not what it should be and needs to be fixed.
Incidentally, I met my internal editor in a dream last night. She lives in a tower filled with books, and she banished me to an unfurnished dungeon until I get the book done.
So, anyway, I know my impulse is to just forge ahead on this new idea because I'm excited about it and impatient, but in order to make it what it really deserves to be, I'm going to have to do a ton of research in history and literature. Researching this book will be essentially a liberal arts education. That may actually be fun, in a way. But what I'm excited about is that it's the idea that fits the feeling I wanted. A while back, I had this odd flash of the kind of book I wanted to write, with no plot idea at all, just a feeling I wanted to get out of a book, and this is it!
Meanwhile, going back to that thing that's been going around various writers' blogs about common elements in our books, I finally managed to distill a list, and the new idea definitely fits. So, here are the top ten ways you can tell you're reading a Shanna Swendson book:
1) The main character is spunky and resourceful -- not really going after trouble, but rolling with the punches when the trouble comes.
2) The leading man may look "beta," but when I really think about it, most of mine are actually so alpha they come back around to beta because they're so sure of themselves and what they can do that they don't feel any need to flaunt it or act aggressively. They have extreme potential for power and authority that they use only when necessary. The result is a nice, mellow guy with the ability to take over the world, if he really felt the need to (but that would get in the way of other things he'd prefer to be doing).
3) There will be humor. Even tragedy may be reacted to with dark humor. Characters who find themselves acting in a melodramatic way will end up laughing at themselves.
4) The language will be mostly suitable for network television. I don't swear, so it never occurs to me to make my characters swear all that much.
5) There will likely be some element common in fantasy or folklore that is twisted or inverted in some way.
6) There won't be a lot of detailed, flowery description. Sometimes I have to remind myself to describe things at all.
7) If there's a romantic subplot, the romance will be a very, very slow build, the kind that takes several books to resolve.
8) My characters are usually religious, but not really in a plot-related way. It's just part of who they are as people. They go to church on Sundays and in a jam they may pray, but the story isn't about their faith journey or a spiritual crisis.
9) There won't be much sex, and if there is, it won't be described because I'm really not very good at writing it and don't enjoy doing so.
10) The secondary characters will be a quirky bunch. I like taking types you expect and then throwing in some oddball trait or feature.
And, finally, in other news (yeah, you can sometimes tell I used to write newscasts), I'll be speaking next month at the DFW Writers Conference in Grapevine, Texas. If you're interested in hearing me talk about mythology and psychology in characterization or the other slate of speakers, here's the info.