So, as we saw this Sunday, all authors (or at least, all of us) have a few book bodies we’ve buried in the woods. Slaughtering and burying our babies is all part of the long, bloody process. No wonder people look at authors a little askew, it’s a violent business. Fortunately, despite the solitary nature of writing, you don’t have to do it all yourself. I’m of the firm belief that every writer needs a partner in crime, someone to hold the flashlight while you hack things up if nothing else, maybe help you clean the blood off the furniture. Some writers have first readers, trusted friends who can tell you without holding back if your baby’s third arm needs to go. Others have writer friends who lend them a hacksaw on occasion. Me? I have my husband, Travis, the world wrecker.
It often goes like this. I’ll be driving home from work, walking the dog, cooking dinner, curing cancer, whatever, and it hits me. An idea! Maybe it’s a character, maybe it’s a new magical system, a pantheon, a dark secret that could shake the world! Whatever it is, ideas never obey the speed limit. They hit me like freight trains, and woosh, I’m off. This is the most dangerous time for me, when the new idea is the BEST THING EVER, SO much BETTER than whatever I’m actually supposed to be working on. There are no flaws, no limitations. My mind goes a million miles a second, connecting things, spinning stories, and falling head over heels in love with my new, perfect idea.
Within hours (or even minutes), I’ll be SO EXCITED, the story will bubble over, and I’ll run to my husband to tell him about this AMAZING idea that will blow him away.
This is where things start to go wrong.
First off, the idea never sounds as cool when I say it as it did in my head. (Fact: Oxygen makes ideas wilt.) Next, you have to understand that Travis is a gamer. Not just any gamer, but a high school DM turned local GM who makes his own table top games. The gamer’s mentality is so deeply ingrained in his mind that it is impossible for him to listen to an idea without immediately trying to find a way to beat the system… even (especially) my system.
For example, in the Spirit Thief, everything has a spirit, tables, rocks, swords, everything. Wizards can talk to these spirits, that’s what makes you a wizard. When I first had this idea years and years ago, it was the COOLEST THING EVER ™. But when I told my husband (then boyfriend) about it, his little GM mind started ticking. What about food? He asked. If everything talks, how do wizards eat? Could you eat an animal that could talk to you? You couldn’t even be a vegetarian because your salad would scream for help as you ate it. Can spirits to talk to each other? Could I bully spirits around me and have them bully other spirits and put together a spirit army? What if I had a water spirit I was good friends with, could I get my enemy to drink that spirit, then have it bust out of his chest, alien style? Can I make a flamethower out of any fire, or just really big fires?
And so it goes. The next thing I know, I’ve got wizards riding around on mountains carrying rocket propelled grenade launchers made of metal and gunpowder spirits who are being manipulated through a Machiavellian system of intimidation and lies to shoot exploding firebombs through the shattered husk of my beautiful, ruined world.
This is generally about the time where I realize that I’m a hack who never had a good idea in her life. Thus we enter the moping stage where I pick up what’s left of my idea after the world wrecker’s onslaught and see if there’s anything worth saving. However, in evolution and in writing, the strong survive. Though all the shine and glitter has been stomped to dust, if the idea had real bones, they can survive even a Travis attack. The world that comes out the other side is hardened and tested, and ready to support a story.
We went through this process a dozen times at least with The Spirit Thief, and every time I almost threw the idea out. But every time, the innate coolness of the world drew me back, and that’s what you need to get a world that can hold a story. If my world isn’t strong enough to handle my husband’s wrecking ball of abusive, player character min maxing, then it wouldn’t be strong enough for my characters, or my reader.
I used to get mad at my husband when he wrecked my worlds. Now, I treat him as a testing ground. With the loving cruelty only found in writers, I take my sparkly, new born lovely and toss her into the arena where she it trampled mercilessly and bent into abusive shapes she was never intended to have. But if any world survives once Travis is done, it is stronger, tougher, and deeper than it ever was before. I’ve never managed to stop being mad about it, especially on those occasions where no world survives at all, but I realize the destruction is necessary.
Writing is, after all, a violent sport. No coddling allowed.
Edit: On a slightly different note, John Scalzi just posted an awesome post on 10 things to remember about authors. I LOL’ed at and agreed with most everything, so check it!