Whenever I reach the point in a manuscript where I’m just about ready to send it to the peer editor for evisceration review, I start “listening” for the topic of the next one. Historical fiction takes quite a bit of research, and I generally like to start that process while I’m finalizing the edits (synopsis, final read, etc) on the previous manuscript.
But to do that, one needs a topic, and I haven’t got one yet.
It’s not that I don’t have ideas. (I have those in spades, most of them ill-advised.) It’s more that none of them has chosen me yet. I’m still waiting for a protagonist (or era) to stand up and demand that his-or-her story be told.
This morning, I thought “I need a lightning bolt of inspiration!” – and then promptly realized that, for me at least, inspiration doesn’t come like a bolt from the sky.
It’s more like a distant rumble, heralding an approaching storm.
The first hint of a new manuscript usually comes from a quarter I didn’t expect: a random sentence in an unrelated book or something I heard on the news. The sentence itself might have only tangential relation to the subject of the book, but for some reason it sparks a thought: Hey, write about X.
My current work in progress was sparked by a sentence in the gunpowder book I linked a few days back – which I was reading just because I like things that explode, not because I needed inspiration. Yet even as I read it, I heard that distant rumbling in my brain that I’ve come to associate with Something That Might, With Proper Encouragement, Become A Reasonably Good Idea.
Only with time and consideration did it ripen into The Story That Must Be Told, and from there to The Work In Progress. The idea didn’t come like a flash of light, complete and perfect and instantaneously awesome. It sneaked in over time, like thunder that sounds far away but gradually builds into something you cannot ignore.
Some writers claim their inspirations come like lightning – and I believe that they do. In my case, though, it’s the thunder I’m listening for.