Get the Idea: Then vs Now

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Get the Idea: Then vs Now

I’ve been thinking recently about how I came up with the concept for The End of Atlas vs how I used to come up with the ideas for previous novel projects.

Before Atlas my usual technique was to build a world around a character, which I think started

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/pokemon/images/d/d6/Lawrence_III_7.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20121028024035
Lawrence III from Pokemon 2000

 when I was 8. Pokemon 2000 had just come out on VHS and I became obsessed with the villain (then nameless, now Lawrence III or Jirarudan). I built a whole world up around him and whenever I was bored or getting ready for bed, I would tell myself a little chunk of his story.

As I got older, I got really good at pulling character ideas out of nothing, from Lily the eccentric coffee shop owner, to Carson a devious criminal psychologist. I would build my story by saying, what if this happened? What would they do? Who would they go to? What are they like? And so the world would branch out around them.

But at some point during university, something else got added to the idea making mix.

Moving Day, EM Harding

Franco the Giraffe from Opportunity Cost

First year, I did the same thing I’d always done. The characters came first, then the plot. At the beginning of second year, I created a Douglas-Adams-esque version of the previously mentioned Carson (Clarence) and put a lot of research into how you would go about stealing a giraffe.

Then, as the year went on, I hit something of an emotion crisis, and found myself thinking:

“For the love of God, I wish people would just do what I want them too!”

Shortly followed by:

“That would be a terrible idea, Emma. Don’t wish that.”

That moment was when Olivia, the female protagonist of Atlas and the original narrator, came to life. Whereas my previous characters had come from “it would be cool if this person existed”, Olivia came out of a necessity to express and idea.

I started with a very short story about a girl rescuing a guy from a mugging using her

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My bed in 2013. Struggle was real.

mysterious ability to influence others. Through a thick, morose monologue, the girl revealed that the guy used to be her best friend, until she fell in love with him and he fell for someone else. Not wanting to be around him, she’d erased his memory and spent her life grumpily avoiding him.

As I said, I was having something of an emotion crisis, but let’s not read into it.

I loved the concept and I liked Olivia, but I struggled a great deal with her voice. It had a monotonous “I hate everything” ring to it and I knew I was never going to be able to sustain that kind of narration for a whole novel.

Still, I knew this was the idea I wanted to use for my dissertation. By the beginning of third year, I’d drafted the opening multiple times. Many drafts were from Olivia’s perspective, but one version was voiced by Alec (male protag and current narrator). Of

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Section from Alec’s perspective. Good luck reading my handwriting.

course, in that version he was a police officer investigating a vigilante…who was his wife…who he couldn’t remember despite the wedding ring he always wore. We’ll call that an alternate universe and move on.

The important thing about that Alec draft was that I realised Alec was so much easier to write. Without having the burden of ridiculous power to worry about, he can express a wider range of emotion, internally and externally. So I went back through my older (less absurd) drafts and rewrote a couple of scenes from his perspective. Bingo.

Over the years my ideas have gone from, “oh, man this would be cool” and a few questions to drive the plot, to very much emotion driven. The characters, plot and themes of  The End of Atlas all come from a frustration that hit me hard in 2013, and

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Trying to work out how old minor characters need to be.

writing this novel has been a continuous reminder that no matter how tough things get, there’s a way through.  We’ve had our ups and downs, me and Atlas, but my interest in experimenting with it’s core concepts has been enough to bring me back from the verge of quitting multiple times.

For those of you who want to write something longer and who struggle to keep yourself interested (as I do), I strongly recommend finding something that drives you emotionally; something that makes the impulse to pick up a pen (or tap on a keyboard) so strong that even when you’ve fallen out with your fictional characters, and you’re crocodile wrestling with how to make your plot work, you still feel some comfort in sitting down and getting what’s in your brain, out in words.

After all, is it really a good idea if you can’t bring yourself to follow through?

 

 

Featured Image taken by a friend in Amsterdam (2013).

 

 

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Story Time: Moving Day

Moving Day, E.M. Harding
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Moving Day

Franco was a perfect male specimen. He was tall, but not too tall, had broad powerful shoulders, and sported a surprisingly elegant neck for a gent. Despite this, he didn’t make his sexual debut until the age of 8. His mother informed him that, back in the homeland, most men his age already had children. Franco just scoffed. It wasn’t his fault. The other chaps were always getting in the way, and he wasn’t very good at necking. Then Kanna arrived. She was sweet, and nice enough to slip behind the acacias, where no-one could see them. He wasn’t going to waste such an opportunity. The lady made his heart feel three-feet big.

“A creature of habit.” That’s what the help called him. But so what? So what if he enjoyed the little things in life; taking long walks, freshly prepared meals, and his newly scheduled romps before bath time? Franco was living the good life, and he knew it. Some of the others hated living behind fences, and being herded into their little wooden huts at night. His mother – who remembered the homeland well – strongly advocated the benefits of sleeping under the stars, but Franco liked the warmth of his hut and the soft floor. The bathroom facilities did leave something to be desired; he often had to spend a night with a room full of his own “offerings”, but they were always gone by the next evening. The help were very good that way. Honestly though, he could find no real reason to complain to the manager. He had warmth, he had food, and he had Kanna. What more could a man ask for?

Franco had 11 years of complete serenity, before the evening when everything changed. It began in the most bizarre of ways. A short, sharp pain in his bottom, that’s all. It wasn’t too bad. The pain dulled quite quickly, and for a while he felt fine. He continued to munch his supper. Gradually, however, everything started to get a bit blurry. Everything felt heavy too, even the air. Franco felt like his lungs were heaving in mud. It was rather disquieting, and he did in fact feel like he should be panicking. He just couldn’t. He wondered whether there was something wrong with the central heating, and went to call the manager. It was then he found that he had too many legs. There were too many legs, far too many. What kind of animal had four whole legs? Franco took a tumble and narrowly avoided bashing his skull against the wall. He tried to pick himself up off the floor, but found it was useless, and for some peculiar reason he didn’t really care. He let out a sigh of utter contentment and slipped into unconsciousness.

Waking up was not quite so fun. After all, he didn’t remember being blind before. And he was sure he used to be able to feel things. Didn’t he remember the pain of falling, of his knees buckling one after the other? For a moment he pondered whether or not he might be dead, then quickly came to his senses because you didn’t wake up dead, and he definitely remembered falling asleep. Besides, Kanna wanted to try behind the juicy looking sycamore next, and there was no way he was dying before he’d done that. He decided to try moving his legs about a bit. He heard something go bang, so it must have worked, but then why couldn’t he feel or see? Just breath, he told himself. Don’t panic!

He lay there for what felt like a month, but he couldn’t be sure. If he had been able to see a clock, he would have known it was only 30 minutes. The numbness began to wear off. A heavy weight eased away from his torso and Franco thrashed his legs around further. He could sense a presence in the room with him, several even, and it wasn’t very nice. Polite people announced themselves, introduced themselves. Even the help had names. No-one spoke to him now, and no-one tried to help him up.

There was something wrapped up in his legs too, some strange vine that burnt his skin when he wriggled. He tripped up onto his feet and his head nearly hit the floor with the effort. A vine around his neck choked him as it forced him up straight, and then all of the vines began to pull and tug and pinch, forcing him to move. There was yelling. Shouts of help speak, “This way!” “Watch yourself!” “Mind his head!” None of it was directed at him. They seemed to be shoving him into what he was sure should have been the wall of his home, but instead of slamming into wood, he stumbled up onto a cold echoing floor and something icy brushed against his side. He shuddered and his leg twitched out. Someone screeched. “Did he hit you?!” “No, I’m fine!” “Don’t scare me like that!” There was one final heave on the vines and Franco lurched forward. He jumped at the loud metallic bang that came from behind him.

It was all very odd, and very strange, but Franco still felt drowsy. He wanted to take another nap, but a sudden surge of motion put all thoughts of sleep out of his mind. He was standing still, but he could feel the wind rushing past his ears.

“Okay, what in the Savannah’s name is going on?” he coughed.

But no-one answered, because no-one spoke giraffe.

Moving Day, EM Harding