I use the word ‘intimidated’ because, as a writer, it is... until you realize that the entire Outlander saga apparently all stems from Ms. Gabaldon --- originally a marine biologist --- viewing a Dr. Who episode years ago and seeing some minor character with a Scots name and kilt, and from that slenderest of inspirations, crafting a story that so far includes eight novels and now, to the delirious delight of its legions of fans, a television series. And she did not have the entire canon --- the full extent of the sweeping canvas that is Outlander’s world --- fully formed from the get-go. Whew. (I may have viewed an episode or six of Outlander... I neither confirm nor deny, but maintain, as they used to say on The X Files, ‘as always, plausible deniability.’ I say this because I frequently tell my students they should always make sure, where there is a written story and a film version, the Civilized Person always reads before viewing.)
We could say the same about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Yikes. Look at the creativity and originality. The details. The clever ideas. Intimidating as hell... until we compare the first book (Philosopher’s Stone) to the last (Deathly Hallows). Our introduction to Harry is a rather simple story that doesn’t take long to spin its plot arc. Laid next to the final book, we see a minnow beside a whale. We see enormous change, a massive increase in complexity of all sorts --- in plot, in details, in characterizations, in texture... in short, just about everything. And while Rowling apparently knew from the start how her series would end, and that it would contain seven volumes, I think it’s fair to make the assertion that there was a great deal of evolution in her saga as it progressed.
Or Tolkien, who famously admitted in his foreword to The Lord of the Rings that his tale ‘grew in the telling’ (my obligatory LOTR blog reference for the week out of the way). I also find his confession that his writing of LOTR stalled out for almost a year while the Fellowship was in Moria --- and the accompanying inference that he contemplated abandoning the book altogether --- as extremely comforting. After all, if even The Master can have long creative droughts, and flirt with story abandonment, then what a tremendous relief it is for us mere mortals.
My point regarding all three of these very successful writers is that the rest of us should collectively take heart, because all you really need to start with is the germ of a clever idea, things like a marginal character in a TV series; a protagonist first envisioned while traveling on a train (it’s also worth noting that Rowling says on her website that what eventually became the first book bore almost no resemblance to her initial written words on the subject); and, of course, ‘In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit.’
(In my case --- although I want to make it abundantly clear I’m not equating myself with the Trinity listed above --- I also began with a simple idea: a door in my classroom that had absolutely no business being there, a door through which I could escape the slings and arrows of a situation that varied between Merely Annoying and Downright Appalling, disappearing into a whole other world, a richer and more vibrant place than the Darkton where I found myself incarcerated. From that little acorn did Gryphon’s Heir grow.)
Of course, it takes more than just the germ of an idea, a whole lot more. We ultimately need characters who are more real than some people we actually know; dialogue that sings; events that captivate; details that are plentiful but do not distract or stifle --- in short, a story that will grow, deepen, become ever richer, and mature. But if we are any good at all... that will come, and our tales, too, will grow in the telling.
One final thing... the picture of the tree at the entry's beginning... yes, yes, I know it's not an oak. We don't have any in the semi-arid climate where I live. You'll just have to use your imagination...