Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Origins of the Story

Besides my extended synopsis for my novel, The Other Side of the Gate, I've been avoiding actually writing about the book here in my blog thus far. The book has only been available for some six weeks now, and I know that very few people actually have the book at this point, much less have read it. I can't help but feel a bit self-aggrandizing to be talking about the details of a book that nobody's actually read yet. And naturally, I don't want to spoil any of the story for those who read this blog and who are currently reading or intend to read the book (which I naturally hope is everyone reading this blog - available on Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com, by the way!)

Even so, I don't think this would be considered much of a writer's blog unless I actually talked about my own writing now and then. So today, I wanted to talk a little bit about where the story of TOSOTG came from. I'll try to avoid assuming that you have actually read the book, and will also do my best to avoid spoilers as well.

I know it sounds almost corny, but The Other Side of the Gate has its origins in a dream I had. I was actually working on a completely different novel at the time, but after having a strange and incredibly vivid dream one night, I woke up and was compelled to write down as many details as I could remember. So, I got up and went straight to my computer and started typing down all the details I could recall. Before I knew it, I had spent nearly six hours typing around forty pages of notes about the dream. Much of it was actually in the dream, while other details I instinctively expanded on in a way that seemed perfectly natural to what I had envisioned.

I dreamt that I was floating on a tiny wooden boat into a bay side city made out of ceramic clay. When I got to the dock, someone wanted to buy my boat, but I didn't want to sell it because I thought I might need it. So, I stashed it underneath the pier and went into town. There, I would meet people, most of whom said that they were born here, and that people float in from the bay on a regular basis. Nobody knows why, but it's been happening for as long as anyone can remember.

I learned that there was a great stone portal at the far end of the town, which led to other worlds, but once you went through the portal, you couldn't go backwards until you reached a certain point. This made me very wary about going through it, because I had no idea what things were like on the other side of the portal (that almost sounds like a good title!). Still, I was growing increasingly frustrated about why all of these people were here, and befuddled about what I was supposed to do next.

Finally, I went back to the pier to sell my tiny boat, convinced that there was no way I could use it anymore, and once I got the pouch filled with gold coins, I went exploring some more. I found this poorer side of town where the clay brick buildings were crumbling and doorways were covered by heavy cloth sheets rather than doors. I found this are infested with these bright red, marble-sized bugs scurrying about. I also saw a girl there who was methodically chasing and capturing them. I talked to her for a while, and we quickly became friends

Shortly after that, we were being chased around by a large, foul-looking man who had a bazooka on his shoulder, and we were forced to flee the town and go through the portal in order to escape him. On the other side, we found a vast, barren desert where an ocean of sand flowed like the rolling tide.

As I put down on the computer's Word file all of the details I could recall from the dream, I would extrapolate on things that weren't actually clarified during it. Even though I found myself making up certain details, it seemed as natural as if they too were the reality of the dream, but that I simply hadn't discovered them yet. After several hours and dozens of pages of notes, I finally got up from my computer to shower and eat and get on with whatever was left of that Saturday. Even so, I found myself constantly thinking about the details of the dream and inventing new things that popped into my head, until I finally went back and continued jotting down more and more notes.

When I was finally done, I wondered if there was something useful in all of this in a story, so I spent the rest of the weekend trying to organize it into something which I could turn into a novel. I structured out the different worlds, or realms that were all connected, so that each had its own unique geography and personality, like each had its own story to tell. I tried to put together the physics and the logistics of the world, making it plausible that different communities would have sprouted up in the different realms and interacted with one another. I also built up the more fantasy elements of the world - the magic and the creatures - and tried to understand how they all interacted with one another.

I wanted the world to be wondrous, but believable. I didn't want anything to be explained away with a "because I said so" explanation, that there was a reason behind every curiosity in the world. I've always felt that, as a fiction writer, if I can lay down certain ground rules to anchor the world I'm creating to its own reality, then the reader will be able to buy into the things they read, feeling confident that I'm not trying to trick them.

I also needed to figure out who the characters were going to be. As interesting as I am, I don't think I'd make much of a fantasy/adventure hero. I won't go into too much detail about the characters here, because I'd rather save them for a different blog posting, but from the outset, I wanted to make the main characters of the story pretty young. In a general sense, I think it's easiest to relate to a young teenager in a novel than virtually any other age group. Those of us who are older can still relate to the internal transitions we underwent when we were that age, and younger readers can identify still more closely with characters in that age group. Most of all, I wanted to have characters who were old enough to live in a world that is not altogether friendly and safe, yet who were young enough to still be developing into the men and women they would one day become.

I can't say that I've never been inspired before that dream. I've captured great ideas from my experiences, from other people, and out of the ether of my own imagination. But I've never before had such a vivid inspiration for a story like that dream gave me in my life. I didn't know if it was going to amount to anything, but I resolved to put my other projects to the side to work on this one for as far as it would take me.

I figured that I would work on it for only a few days, perhaps a week before I grew tired of it and went on to other things. As a result, I started the novel on a MS Word file which I labeled under the working title of "BTW", which was short for "Brilliant Time Waster". Even after I had given the story it's real name, the file name stayed the same right up to the day when I finally finished it. I can't say for certain whether it deserves to be called "brilliant", but I know for sure now that it certainly wasn't a waste of my time.

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