Sunday night, Collin and I watched Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. We've seen it many times before, but I admit we'd never watched many of the Special Edition DVD's bonus features until now.
Watching cast and crew as they discussed the inspiration for and evolution of the story, I found it very similar to how I develop my novels. Everyone connected with Star Trek VI knew this would be the last film featuring the cast of the original series. They weren't getting any younger, and joked that their last theatrical outing should be called The Search for Geritol.
As they were trying to come up with a plot, world events handed them one: Chernobyl. From the Soviet nuclear disaster came the inspiration for the explosion on the Klingon mining moon, Praxis. Like Mikhail Gorbachev, the Klingons initially rejected offers of outside help. Finally, however, realizing they could not survive without it, an olive branch of sorts was extended to the Federation. Of course, James T. Kirk was the only one who could be sent to escort Chancellor Gorkon to the peace summit...for the same reason that, as Spock put it, "Only Nixon could go to China."
Though Gorkon was initially inspired by Gorbachev, there was also a bit of Abraham Lincoln in the Klingon chancellor: his beard.
Many authors start with a character. Others start with a plot. I wish I could say I have a formula. I don't. With Chasing the Wind, inspired by the news stories on cloning and stem cell research, my protagonist didn't even show his face until the third draft. It started out as a completely different story--that wasn't working. I was about to give up on it when the Connor character came to me in a dream. It was like finding the missing piece of a very large puzzle, and once he was in place, everything came together--after another six drafts!
An Army of Angels has been a long labor as well, in spite of the fact that this is a sequel to Chasing the Wind. In fact, I'd originally interwoven Alex's story with Connor's, until I realized the finished novel would be longer than War and Peace!
Final Hours, on the other hand, was inspired by events that have not yet happened: the two near-misses the Earth will have with the Apophis asteroid in 2029 and 2036. The characters and their story came fast. I wrote the novel in six weeks.
When I wrote my third novel, A Time for Legends (soon to be re-released in e-book format as The Unicorn's Daughter), it was originally supposed to reach its climax in Amsterdam. The US air strike in Libya (which took place as I was writing the book), however, seemed much more timely and exciting.
Timing is everything for writers!
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