Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Overactive Imagination

I continue making pretty good progress on what I hope will be the next-to-final round on The Book That Will Not Die, and the really startling thing is that I've done this at my desk, in my office, where the Internet lives. That, folks, is willpower the likes of which I haven't exhibited in years.

I suspect, though, that the lack of Internet distraction may have something to do with having other distractions, namely, new ideas. The plot-generating squirrels in my brain have gone insane.

Yes, I know, other people talk about plot bunnies. But that's way too tame an image for what goes on in my head. If you saw the movie of Over the Hedge (and my stupid local newspaper cut that comic strip this month, but I have found the online home of it), you know the hyperactive squirrel voiced by Steve Carell? That's what the inside of my brain is like, and getting into the rhythm of regular writing or just thinking a lot about books has the effect of giving it Jolt cola and cotton candy. I don't think I'm unique in that because an overactive imagination is both a job requirement and an occupational hazard for writers.

I really do think that my best story ideas come either from thinking about what I want to read or from being a brat -- or both. New Idea #1 came from me mentally composing a future blog post on the kinds of books I want to find as a reader. I started using an example from something I'd read as an example of how I thought the thing I was looking for that was all too rare could work, then realized it was a spoiler, so I came up with a silly hypothetical example. And then I thought that the silly hypothetical example actually sounded like it could be a fun story. And then I thought some more about it and figured out how the plot and characters would go. I will not be using that silly hypothetical example when I actually do that post because I think I'm going to have to write it.

New Idea #2 came from something I read. There was an aspect to the set-up of the main character's situation that I really liked and that I thought the author did really well, thinking through all the implications of it. I just wasn't crazy about how the story played out and the other elements that the story focused on. Not that it wasn't well done, just that it was subject matter that doesn't really interest me. I started thinking of what I would have preferred to happen with that basic character set-up, then started trying to twist it so that it wouldn't be an obvious rip-off, and I think I came up with something that's different enough and that I much prefer. I don't really have plots for that idea yet, so the squirrel will have to keep working.

I mentioned that I was thinking of doing NaNoWriMo this year, mostly because I need that kick and sense of deadlines, and I need to stay in the writing habit. Whether or not I actually end up doing it depends on if my agent looks at that proposal for The New Project between now and then and how extensively she wants me to rewrite it. I think I'm pretty safe on revisions to the revisions I'm currently working on within that time frame (that will pop up right at Christmas). I'd thought I'd settled on a project for the month, something that's been living in the back of my head for more than twenty years and for which I've done all the world building, but now New Idea #1 is looking good. I may stick with the original plan because New Idea #1 needs more time to brew (that can be my January project) and the original plan project fits better within the NaNo time/length parameters.

But there is a dark side to the overactive imagination. I do tend to blow things out of proportion by imagining worst-case scenarios and how I might react, then when I get into the real situation, I'm almost disappointed when it goes more easily than I planned. Or I can fixate on situations, working out all the possible things that could happen. This weekend, I got a big one.

Mom called me soon after five on Friday to warn me about a story she saw on one of the Dallas stations about a man who'd been attacking women in my neighborhood, with a description of him based on photos from a park security camera. On the six o'clock news, they just mentioned attacks/robberies but didn't go into detail. From the description Mom saw, I'm actually bigger than the guy, and his weapon was a claw hammer, so chances are that a decent-sized woman with anything that could be used as a weapon might fight him off if he didn't take her by surprise (one of his victims was deaf). That sent the brain spinning into overdrive, and I almost didn't get to sleep that night from dreaming up scenarios. At first, I was just mentally running through things I'd learned in the various martial arts/self-defense seminars I've been to and figuring that I could go walking with a golf club (yay, finally a use for them!). Since I used to fence, I know how to use something shaped roughly like that as a defensive weapon to fend off attacks to the head and body, and a man shorter than I am armed with a hammer would have a shorter reach than I would with a sand wedge, so I could probably parry any attempted strike he made, then break his nose with the riposte (since a sand wedge has a big hunk of metal on the end that a foil doesn't). So from there of course I had to add a plot and characters, and eventually the scenario had me overcoming the guy and holding him for police, and then, of course, it was My Anchorman who covered the story, and he was impressed by my cool under pressure and bravery.

It turned out, when I read the newspaper the next day, that the station had smashed together two stories, and the one they had a description for the suspect for took place all the way across the Metroplex. They don't have a description for the guy in my neighborhood because he attacks from behind and the victims don't get a look at him. They did an update on the story last night, and he seems to be working in the area where I used to live, and when they showed the apartment complex near where one of the attacks occurred, it was a complex where I used to live. I'm not sure why it freaked me out so much to see a place where I lived ten years ago as a crime scene, but it sent the imagination into overdrive again. I imagined seeing a man with a hammer prowling the Walgreens parking lot and calling to tip off the police.

I guess I have a hero complex, but I imagine it has something to do psychologically with the way that the idea of an unknown person for whom they have no description who's carrying out senseless attacks in my neighborhood makes me feel powerless, and the best way for the brain to regain a feeling of control is to write a scenario in which I am truly in control of the situation.

Or something like that. At any rate, it does make me nervous, and I'm glad I didn't get around to taking any long walks to "train" for that 5K because it was during that time that the attacks happened. And now I have an excuse not to go for a walk.

1 comment:

Carradee said...

Isn't it a bit odd that we seem to have a lot of things in common? You're a writer of humorous fantasy; I do… Okay, so I do darkly humorous fantasy.

I have an overactive imagination, too, and my "plot bunnies" come more in the form of a brain-damaged squirrel that loves people. *grin*

(Long story. Suffice to say, I know one. She even gets depressed if she doesn't get enough attention. And chitters at you if you ignore her. But if you stick your finger in her cage, she latches onto it and starts grooming. …Okay, maybe that wasn't such a long story.)

The overactive imagination does have some real-life uses, though. Like when a friend has recently started dragging me with her to horror movies. As freaked out as I might get, I don't get nightmares. I had scarier recurring nightmares throughout my childhood.

I don't remember if I've mentioned this to you yet, but I like how your Enchanted books have serious plots despite the hilarity. I admire that.