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William Lashner's PI-Writing Blog

Introducing: HENCHMEN

Friday, April 22, 2011

Okay, in the past I’ve been giving little pieces of writing advice that are better left ignored, and I’ve gotten a lot of feedback about how helpful they’ve been, but I’ve wanted to try something a little different here now.  I’ve finally gotten out from under something huge I was working on and am starting to think about something new, and this might be a good time to discuss it.

I’ve always thought it interesting how something goes from the flash of an idea into a complete novel, all the stages and all the problem solving that is required.  Generally it all disappears with the completion of the book, as it should.  The writing itself should stand alone.  One of the rules I strictly maintain when I teach, is that the author should keep his mouth shut when discussing a piece of work.  If the work speaks for itself, there is nothing the writer need add; if the work doesn’t speak for itself then nothing the writer says can possibly put it in there.  The little black marks on the page rule.

But it might be helpful for you, and for me, if I try to lay out all the stages that go into the development of a book and so that’s what I’ll do.  We’ll call this project Henchmen because that’s its tentative title, though we know it will probably change by the end of the process.  The idea is just a kernel of something but I’m hoping if I keep working it, it will grow into something towering.  Of course, all the corn I plant ends up stunted and forlorn, but that’s the way it is when you start with an idea, you never know if it can go all the way to completion.  A couple hundred pages in you might realize the thing is stillborn and go to something else.  Such is life, but even if the thing doesn’t get written, it might be an interesting object lesson.

Before I give you the idea in the next post, just a quick note on ideas.  There are an infinite number of ideas out there, just floating around, and yet we are all scared of having our great idea stolen.  And we’re all in great fear that just when our idea is ready to blossom, someone will put out something with the same idea and we’ll look like the worst kind of plagiarists.  When I came up with the idea of reversing “The Metamorphoses” in a novel I published called Kockroach, it seemed like such an obvious conceit that I was all the time worried that someone would do it before I did.  Of course no one else was crazy enough to do it, but even if someone else had, her version would have necessarily been different than my version.  I was all the time aware of the different roads my book could take: the cockroach turned into a man could become a suburban dad, a used car salesman, a Vegas crooner, and it all would have worked.  I made him a gangster and politician.  The key to the book, actually, was the factotum who followed him around, Mite, and I’m pretty sure no one else would have come up with him.  And even if the other book had come out at the same time, having the dueling version might actually have been good for sales.  The point is, the book you write will be yours, totally, and unlike anything written by anyone else, even if they start with the same core idea.  So we should be a little less scared of sharing and a little more helpful with each other.

Still, if anyone steals my Henchmen idea, I know a guy what knows a guy, if you know what I mean.


Anonymous kevin m smith said...

He's back!!!! Oh how I've missed you.

Each of your Henchmen have always felt like they'd have great series themselves. Especially, Morris and Lavander.

Wishing you all the best,KMS

April 30, 2011 at 8:18 AM  

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