J. Marc Schmidt has written an essay, over on his blog, about where ideas come from, and he talks in particular about The Sixsmiths. Here’s my take:
Ideas come from everywhere. There’s no shortage of them. For me I find stories everywhere: in the news, in history, in music; at the beach, on the train; in the dictionary, in my dreams. I feel like a bit of a tool for saying it, but I have, in fact,published a couple of stories that I ‘found’ most of in dreams. I also find a lot of inspiration while consuming other people’s stories.
I’m one of those irritating people who can usually guess the end of a movie or a book. It’s one reason that I am not particularly fond of mysteries: either they’re too easy, or they pull a twist ending out of their arses. I’m a software engineer; deductive logic is the major part of my day job and I’m quite good at it. Plots have a logic, characters have a logic. Good stories are built as much on logic as on whimsy.
Also, in my day job as a software wonk, I need to examine logic and try to extrapolate what it might do under different circumstances: how it might go wrong, or at the very least, weird. This, I think, you can see in most of my work, which is often about how genre tropes, presented in a certain way or exposed to a particular kind of character, can lead to surprising story conclusions. This is very much the case with The Sixsmiths.
As Marc describes, we came up with the concept sitting in the coffee shop at Borders Camberwell one year when Marc was visiting Melbourne. That Borders has just closed down, part of the first wave of closings that will soon see all of Borders Australia gone, barring perhaps the (unreliable, lying and conniving) web sales department. Marc said "Let’s do a graphic novel." We’d already planned and plotted one a few years prior, but I guess Marc fell out of love with the concept and we were starting afresh. Marc drew a character in his sketchbook, and I could immediately tell that he had stories in him. That scribble became Cain Sixsmith. I don’t think the design changed one iota. "Let’s do a thing about a family of Satanists with troubles," I said. Marc did some more sketches and I think, by the end of the session, we had Melmoth down as well. Over the next few days we came up with the look of the other characters: Annie was all Marc’s; I suggested that Lilith would have the white streak. For Ralf we returned to Borders and tried to cast him from the people who were sitting around us. In many cases it was Marc’s depictions of the characters that suggested to me how they would act and feel.
Marc mentions that I am a big metal fan, and the book is indeed peppered with references to the genre. More of the American classic metal variety than Scandinavian Black Metal, it must be said: I like Black Metal, but it’s pretty grim, and the Sixsmiths is a comedy book. But the Sixsmiths isn’t really ‘metal’, at the end of the day… it’s the blues. It’s not the Addams Family; its the Simpsons and South Park.
Marc’s also quite accurate when he mentions that I have a strange obsession with the Devil–not news to ay of my regular readers, I’m sure. I do think that villains are the most interesting characters: in most popular fiction they seize the initiative and trigger the action. They’re creative and proactive and usually quite competent. The Devil is the ultimate villain, and he appears frequently in my work–although he is noticeably absent from The Sixsmiths.
So there you have it: a case study on where ideas come from and how they can develop into a full length book. Marc says that coming up with ideas is fun, and easy, and you should give it a try. I myself cannot imagine why you would need somebody like me or Marc to encourage you: if you want to write, you should be writing. If you’re not writing you don’t really want to write, you only think you do. And if you think you can just go and meet the Devil at the crossroads and he’ll teach you how, same as bluesman Robert Johnson is supposed to have? Well… think again, friends.
The Devil won’t treat with you if you don’t already play.