Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Creative Liberties

You’re such an ungrateful bitch is what he was thinking. What he said was, “But it’s a great idea.”

And it was. There was no denying the potential of the suggestion that my husband had relayed. And I told him that.

And told him to write it himself.

He was so angry, he did. Why, oh why, couldn’t I just write the damn story he told me to write? Just this once? After him bringing me dozens of stories over time?

For whatever reason, I’ve completely failed to persuade my husband that you have to write the story that’s calling to you. I keep most of his suggestions, in a file. I actually do use some, though not always in the way that he thought I should.

Why? Just me being stubborn and difficult?

Oh, probably. But the truth is, you give two writers a similar plot or scenario and they’ll produce two different stories. Part of how we write has to do with our own style (the much-bandied about phrase de jour, “voice”) and how we see the world and what’s impacting us, to greater or lesser degrees.

I mean, plenty of people write about evil journalists. I understand that, because I’ve known some.

Occasionally people write about journalists with ethics, too. Same thing within the realm of cops. Give different writers the scenario – a cop frustrated by continuously seeing the justice system fail and let killers walk free – and what will be the outcome? One will be a frustrated cop tempted to do the “wrong” thing to make sure someone gets punished (plant evidence, or beat the guy into a wheelchair or something) and one will make the cop a vigilante who kills on the side.

It’s the part of the creative process that has to do with the creator. We all process ideas and shape them differently.

I’m not sure that you can dictate creativity. That’s different from influencing it. Someone could say to me, “Write a story about Ireland” and I’d think about Ireland, my experiences living there, what I’ve read in the news, etc. and eventually, I’d have a story that was inspired by Ireland. Often, for me, that’s all it boils down to, especially with short stories. I give myself one or two simple objectives and move forward from there. With short stories, all I try to do is achieve those goals, which might be, “write a story about a PI” or something.

There are times even a nudge doesn’t work for me. I blogged recently about the Beefcake, Babes, and Blood contest over at Mysterical-E but other pressures and such conspired against me. There were a couple rambling thoughts that had potential, but when I tried to kick-start them into something, they evaporated. That happens sometimes. Even with blog posts. I think I have a great topic, sit down, and realize that it wasn’t even a house of cards, it was two leaning against each other to make a lame teepee, and a fart in the wind could knock it down.

So, what has me on this little kick this morning? Why am I ranting about this at 6 am?

The burning, age-old question: Why doesn’t Peter Robinson set his crime fiction in Toronto? I mean, he chooses to live there, so why not write about it?

Short answer: It doesn’t work that way.

Longer answer: Doesn’t he have the right to set his books wherever he wants?

Why, yes Sandra, he does. Say it with me now.

You see, some people could ask why I’m living in Alberta presently, and writing about Connecticut and BC’s lower mainland.

Because that’s what I’m writing about. Deal with it.

I used New Westminster as the setting for my short story, Fucked Again. I’m pretty sure I never said that anywhere in it, but evilkev enjoyed that. He said, “You had Twitch living in our old apartment!”

Indeed, I did.

And Echoes and Dust begins a series that comes home to Surrey, BC in the sequel (Ashes and Embers).

So, why there instead of here? I mean, Alberta’s got crime. Plenty of crime, actually. Calgary and Edmonton have gang problems. Gun violence is on the rise…

You know what? I don’t have all the answers on it, but right now, it just isn’t here. Part of it, I think, is that BC’s lower mainland is my second home. And being away from there, writing about it helps me process it, maybe it’s my way of trying to understand the paradoxes that are the GVA (Greater Vancouver Area).

I don’t know. Maybe that’s overthinking it. All I know is, when I started that series, I thought about setting. And it was either going to be Ontario, or British Columbia. I did some research, about the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) and RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) because the Ontario setting meant OPP police structure, BC meant RCMP. And what fit for me was RCMP in BC.

I feel bad for Peter Robinson. I actually thought the ‘why don’t you set a book in Toronto?’ question was verboten. But it doesn’t seem to matter – every now and again, he gets the same old tired query.

I’m not writing biographies. Not writing features. Not ghost-writing.

Which means I’m not writing to an assignment, but I’m writing my stories. And dammit, as long as they’re my stories, I’m writing what I’m interested in.

So, “Why not Toronto,” Peter Robinson?

Bet he wishes he could say, “Because. Get over it.”

And what would I say to the reporters?

Twenty years into the Banks series, you still can’t find a new question to ask?

Anyone ever been given grief over something in a story that they just couldn’t change? Told to move it, for example?

Or is it back to Brett, body piercings and latex?


"Relax, the handcuffs are tight because they're new. They'll stretch out after you wear them awhile."

“Take your hands off the car, and I'll make your birth certificate a worthless document."

"If you run, you'll only go to jail tired."

"Can you run faster than 1,200 feet per second? In case you didn't know, that is the average speed of a 9 mm bullet fired from my gun."

"So you don't know how fast you were going. I guess that means I can write anything I want on the ticket, huh?"

"Yes, Sir, you can talk to the shift super visor, but I don't think it will help. Oh ... did I mention that I am the shift supervisor?"

"Warning! You want a warning? O.K., I'm warning you not to do that again or I'll give you another ticket."

"The answer to this last question will determine whether you are drunk or not. Was Mickey Mouse a cat or a dog?"

"Fair? You want me to be fair? Listen, fair is a place where you go to ride on rides, eat cotton candy, and step in monkey poop."

"Yeah, we have a quota. Two more tickets and my wife gets a toaster oven."

"In God we trust, all others we run through NCIC."

"Just how big were those two beers?"

"No sir we don't have quotas anymore. We used to have quotas but now we're allowed to write as many tickets as we want."

"I'm glad to hear the Chief of Police is a good personal friend of yours. At least you know someone who can post your bail."
"You didn't think we give pretty women tickets? You're right, we don't. Sign here."


Brett Battles said...

No...please...no more latex! No more piercings!

I absolutely agree with you on the origins of creativity. I've also had people hand me story ideas which for some reason resonated with them but not with me. Several years ago, I even answered an ad in the paper once from a man who said he had an idea and wanted to pay someone to write the story. I listened to his idea and told him he'd be better off with someone else.

I also think this is why I would find it hard (but not necessarily impossible) to write a novel with someone else. It's not that i'm hard to get along with, it's just my creativity dries up if things go in a direction I'm not interested in.

James Lincoln Warren said...

I tell my friends, "The worst thing you can tell a writer is what he should write."

And it is. You don't tell a painter what picture he should paint or a composer what song to compose.

Unless you pay them, that is. Then I'm all ears.

Trace said...

Funny. I set my last two books in the Albany, NY area but many times I could still see my home town in my mind's eye :)

Sandra Ruttan said...

Funny how places can mesh in our minds, Trace. I've had that happen.

Brett, I hear you. I think collaborating would be hard. It could be fantastic, but very challenging if you have a different vision.

James, if you're all ears, then you'd have no wallet for the money. But seriously, I agree. If I wanted to be told what to write, I'd go back to reporting. What's the joy in fiction if you don't get to do whatever you want?

Brett Battles said...

What's the joy in fiction if you don't get to do whatever you want?

Exactly right.

Sela Carsen said...

That last one was cold!

If I could write what people tell me to write in fiction, I'd probably end up with a lot of crime thrillers. They'd all start with a detective standing over the body of the person who told me what to write.

Sandra Ruttan said...

So Brett, that's why you won't mind if in my next book, I feature a leather-and-chains-wearing, full body piercing with pink and purple mohawk sensitive man who faints at the site of blood and is afraid of tall women guy with the street name Battle Ax? Cool.

Sela, LOL! Too funny! Yeah, you would have a lot of crime fiction there, but it is fun to think about killing off people you don't like in fiction. Oh, it's soooooo tempting.

JT Ellison said...

Brett as Battle Ax. Hmmm...
Good post, Sandra. Creativity is meant to be just that. If we wanted that much direction, we could write non-fiction.

David Terrenoire said...

As most of you know, authors regularly auction off character names for charity.

I did it to save a bar. Not just any bar. My bar. The place I play blues. The place when I enter, the bartender starts pouring a V&T lime no stick.

Anyone who donated $100 to save this bar got their name in my next novel. Well, one guy gave $100 and then sent me a huge email with all of his plot suggestions for how his character could help the protagonist solve the crime.

Yeah. I thanked him and he went away.

Brett Battles said...

I don't faint at the sight of blood.

Sandra Ruttan said...

It's a fictional character Brett. You aren't identifying too closely with my fantasy world again, are you?

David, you're lucky he went away! My strategy is, "You've written such a wonderful email, it's obvious you have the talent to be a writer yourself. I really think you should write it and I look forward to reading your bestseller!"

JT, I completely agree with you. But then I'm always such an agreeable person. How do you wink in keyboard speak?

anne frasier said...

"But the truth is, you give two writers a similar plot or scenario and they’ll produce two different stories."

ooh, this reminded me of a big plan i had a few weeks ago. thanks, sandra.

location: i always find it hard to write about my present location. it's boring and i don't see it with the eyes of an observer.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Now you've got me curious, Anne! But glad to help.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Oh yes. I can see it now. I'll locate my fiction in the excitement-riddled town of Mexico, New York. 'Cause everyone in the world surely wants to read about Jessie down at the Big M and how her best friend Kim who works at the Nice 'N Easy is having a baby, but no one knows whether it's Jeb's or Rusty's... oh, the drama.

As you can see, I'm somewhat opposed to always restricting yourself to setting your work where you live. :-)

Boy Kim said...

;-) or ;) or if you're smile-ificall-y challenged you can always do *wink*

Oh and sorry it's late but... why, yes Sandra, he does.

JamesO said...

Writing what you know is always a good idea, especially when it comes to location. I've read plenty of stories that are meant to be in some well known place and get the most fundamental of details wrong. However, there's a lot to be said for not writing about where you live. Not getting lynched by the locals when you go to the supermarket, for one.

Bill, the Wildcat said...

It's interesting to read about two other writers living together, since my wife and I do the same. The difference is that we actually are trying to write a book together in a manner Brett and Sandra have discussed. My wife and I run into some pretty wild arguments because of it, too. I can't tell you how much I dread that look in Sheri's eyes when she's had an earth-shattering idea that I know will force us to start over our book from page one. I don't care that it's a wonderful idea, perhaps even brilliant... I just want to see our second draft actually finished! That said, my wife and I can feed off of each other's creative energy... and it's saved me from writing some things I know wouldn't have been as good without her right there going, "You need to change that." We've had some nasty fights trying to write together, but we've also produced what I believe is some great stuff. Writing together isn't all that different from writing alone... both take lots of practice and patience.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Kim, *wink*

SW, I agree, you shouldn't be obligated to use certain settings. They might work brilliantly, but they might not.

James, yeah, I'd like to shop in safety. Is this why you write fantasy? No lynch mobs? Gee, wonder how Stuart copes!

Bill, I can't imagine collaborating. Just fending off ideas is enough!

Lisa Hunter said...

I've been collaborating with my own husband on a number of writing projects. I've trained myself not to pounce on his ideas, and instead say, "I'd have done it differently, but let's look at your way first, then we'll look at my way."

Writing partnerships are best if you have different sensibilities and ideas, but also more difficult.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I agree about the creativity! I don't know how many times I've had people tell me that they had a great idea for a story ....that I should write. They were excited...the ideas left me cold!

The cop talk was great. Can I use them?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Go right ahead Bonnie.

Bonnie Calhoun said...


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