Friday, February 21, 2014

On Writing: Ideas!

I'm actually going to blog about writing for once since I am in the middle of a book proposal.  This will be for the third book in the Dog Chronicle series, which I am writing for Peachtree Publishers. Darling: Mercy Dog of World War 1 was out last fall. I just finished revising Murphy: Gold Rush Dog and am eagerly waiting for art/cover. Now I am working on the next book, tentatively titled Finder: Coal Mine Dog.

When you write any kind of a series (even a limited one such as Dog Chronicles that is one book a year), finding fresh and exciting ideas is super important.  Usually I don't read series books because after the first two or three, the writer gets sloppy or repetitive or stale.  Not always--some authors manage to make their series 'pop' from book A to book Z, and many readers love series because of the character growth and familiarity.

Finding a great idea for these dog books is key for me to stay interested because the process --research, writing, revising, more research--is lengthy. If I get bored with the topic, I know the reader will be bored. I've written over sixty books and I try to make each one the 'best,' so finding the idea that can turn into a page turner is important.

Sometimes a book will trigger an idea, sometimes a photo. Years ago I read about pit ponies that were used in coal mines in England. I also heard Susan Campbell Bartoletti speak and bought her book  Growing up in Coal Country.  I was fascinated by both and thought that one day I would combine the two--kids and ponies working in a coal mine, perhaps in the series I was working on, Horse Diaries.

That never happened because the series ended, but suddenly, the two ideas came together again with Finder.  Research helped me pinpoint a setting (a coal mine disaster in 1909) but here was the problem--there is no mention of dogs working in the mine I have chosen.  There are two notations of dogs working in coal mines in the early 1900s, so I know they were used. And the photo to the right is proof,
but that's pretty much it.  My story will be factual in many ways except that Finder and the job he does in the coal mine will be totally fiction based on my speculation of how they were used.

Only time will tell if this idea--a boy and his dog in a coal mine disaster--will make a great story!

Where do you get your best ideas? And did they always work out?


Laura Crum said...

I could not agree with you more about series. I worked really hard to stay engaged with my series character--put her through many life changes...etc, and I tried to find a plot idea for every single book that was new and also interesting to me. I did end the series after twelve books because I realized that I was starting to get tired of writing it, and I, like you, have often noticed that when the author is quite apparently burned out on a series the books become dull. And I didn't want that to happen.

As for ideas, mostly mine came from something I'd seen or heard about in my own life...and then I expanded this into a mystery plot. I like your concept for the new book--starting with something real that interests you and then making it fit your fictional concept. That's pretty much how I worked with my mysteries, too.

Good luck with the new book--my son and I both really enjoyed "Darling."

Alison said...

You succeeded with your series, too, so your plan obviously worked!

Good luck with Gunther.

Linda Benson said...

Your new book idea sounds cool, Alison. I've often used a picture to spark ideas, too. It gets your mind working and wondering about something, and then (especially in your case) you research it and find out lots of new things. Good luck with the writing!

Alison said...

Thanks Linda! We need to keep encouraging each other. :)