Girl Meets Book

“How did you come up with the idea for your novel?”

It’s a sensible question. People often like to be told of that epiphanic moment when an idea for a story came into being.  Given that writing a novel is essentially an all-consuming long term relationship, it seems reasonable to expect a writer to possess a vivid, preferably interesting, memory of that first moment of meeting.  And after all, Oprah might ask.

In truth though, I really don’t remember.  It’s kind of embarrassing, like not remembering the moment you met your husband.  You know, eyes locking across a crowded room, angel choirs perhaps accompanying that sudden shifting of life’s path. I don’t really remember that either (but it’s OK, he is a bit fuzzy on that as well).  We agree at least that we moved in similar circles, and without passing through any distinct, introductory moment, we just kind of knew each other.

This could be what happened with my story as well. So in an effort to understand how the idea came into being, I’ve done some digging through my old files.  It’s been an interesting exercise.

The story of my idea for a story probably began when I heard the sage advice of Dr Kim Wilkins, now my fellow SoP.  She said, simply, “Write what you would like to read.”  I mulled over this for a while, and then began sketching out two characters: one male, one female. A simple-enough place to start.  I added a woodsy setting, though I’m not sure why, and threw in some gentle enmity for good measure.  I knew these characters shared a problem, but I had no idea what it was. I started writing anyway.

Scenes began to form and though there was no plot to unite them, they helped me get to know my characters.  Even though I was the one creating all this, I felt more like an observer.  Plot ideas formed and faded. Still, there was no ‘problem’ that could drive the story. This was proving harder than I thought it would be.  But then, in one scene, in a paragraph that I hadn’t seen coming even just a few lines earlier, one character dreamt of a wolf.  Something deep down must have known this way lay the real story, because within days I had begun collecting information about wolves: legends, folklore, even simple zoological information.  While the writer in me continued to play around with the characters, moulding them into something more tangible, the researcher pressed on, gnawing at the wolf idea.  And then, the research, well it hit marrow.

The older the wolf folklore, the more interesting it became.  Not only was this stuff tapping into interesting psychological concepts of the second self, it also linked strongly with a very common fairytale. You know the one:  girl meets wolf.  But the medieval versions were unlike anything I’d ever heard before, and far more interesting.  Stranger still was the link between the origins of Little Red Riding Hood and some very real historical events in 15th and 16th century France.  Truth is stranger than fiction and truth in fiction is strangely addictive.  I was hooked.  I had found my ‘problem’.  And I’ve been cutting my writerly teeth on it ever since.

So, no, there was no single ‘Let there be book!’ moment. I suspect these are more the exception than the rule.  My story idea decidedly evolved over time, and that’s been half the fun.

As for the other half of the fun? Well, for now, I can tell you this at least:  I’ve learned first hand that you can’t outstare a wolf.  You’ll always be the one to blink first.


Posted on March 14, 2012, in Fiona McMillan and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. What a fantastic post! Thanks you, it’s just how I feel!

  2. Rebekah Turner

    Great blog, Fi. Loved reading how it all began for you.

  3. Reblogged this on Cauldrons and Cupcakes and commented:

    A gorgeous post on book ideas and how they happen and evolve, from the very talented Fiona McMillan

  4. Great post! Loved hearing the “accidental evolution”. Definitely inspired, Fi.

    And “yay!!!”, glad you’re finally speaking to the world (or www) about your wolves and all that interesting history.

    Now anticipating reading the book.


  5. I love the analogy between meeting your hubby and finding your story idea!

  1. Pingback: The Accidental Series « Sisters of the Pen

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