Monday, April 16, 2007

The Dreaded Epiphanot Alligator

An idea that at first seems like an amazing insight (at least to the conceiver) but later turns out to be pointless, mundane, stupid, or incorrect, and often is the root cause of bad decisions. Mostly occurs under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

That's the word of the day over at the Urban Dictionary. It got me to thinking…
As writers, we're constantly asked the question, "where do you get your ideas?"
I don't think that's the real question with writers. I think most of us are bombarded with story ideas. Every eavesdropped snippet of conversation, every weird news event, every person we pass on the street holds an idea for us. That's just the way we're wired.

The real question isn't where we get ideas, it's how to know which ideas to act upon. How do we know that idea isn't leading us into Bad Idea Swampland where we find out it's an epiphanot ? How do we know the Epiphanot Alligator isn't waiting in the dark to snarl, "This is schlock!" and gobble up weeks, maybe months of work?
(Okay, sometimes he's an agent or an editor or a critique partner, he just looks like an alligator at the time.)

I can only speak for myself on this, and the truth is, I don't know. But I trust my gut when a really intriguing idea beckons me to step out into the dark. If it won't go away and seems friendly, I grab my flashlight and venture a few feet out at a time. Maybe I plot, maybe I collage, maybe I journal, maybe I brainstorm, maybe I draft like crazy.
Sometimes I whine. Loudly.
But I do whatever it takes to get me to move out in the dark a little further.

I may have to back up and take another path now and then, but I keep going and trust that just beyond the flashlight's beam, is Story. Being a writer means we have to be optimistic, sometimes even irrationally so, that we will reach that Story End, and a lot of that is simply about moving out into the dark swamp. So what if we encounter the Epiphanot Alligator?
We'll probably just write him into the story.
Susan Goodwill writes the Kate London Mysteries, BrigaDOOM, a quirky romp through murder, mayhem, and romance gone awry was released March, 2007 from Midnight Ink Books.


Mark Terry said...

This is getting to be a bigger and bigger deal. I have plenty of ideas, most of them pretty good, but not all of them would make the kind of book I write. The Derek Stillwater novels require a certain kind of idea and timeframe and I find myself sifting through ideas, thinking, it's good, but it's not a Derek kind of idea.

Joe Moore said...

Excellent post, Susan. When I’m asked where I get ideas, I always say that I subscribe to the Amazing Idea of the Month Club. One time, a lady asked me how much I paid for the subscription service. I didn’t tell her that I actually get a lot of my ideas in the shower. I think the shower is a good place to work on ideas because showering is a repetitious and mindless activity. So in the shower, I can clear my head and let my thoughts focus on the issues of my current WIP. And even though I live in Florida, there are no alligators in my shower.

Susan Goodwill said...

There may be no alligators in your shower, Joe, but have you checked the drain?
That is where all those un-acted upon ideas are going, right?

And Mark, I hear you. Once in a while, I just want to follow that tangent into a completely different world than anything I have ever written in before.

So many ideas, so little time, unless you're Joyce Carol Oates.