Monday, October 20, 2008

Warren Adler: The Idea

Murder by 4 extends a warm welcome to Warren Adler, a world-renowned novelist, short story writer and playwright.

Warren's books have been translated into more than 25 languages and two of his novels, The War of the Roses and Random Hearts, have been made into enormously popular movies, shown continually throughout the world. Three short stories from his acclaimed collection The Sunset Gang have been adapted as a trilogy and shown on Public Television stations. The Overlook Press will publish a new novel, his 29th, in Spring 2008, and his fifth short story collection, New York Echoes will be published in late Winter of 2008 by Stonehouse Press. His play Libido is scheduled for an off-Broadway production in 2008. His stage adaptation of the novel The War of the Roses is currently being produced in Italy, Berlin, Hamburg, Prague and countries in Scandinavia.
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As a novelist, Mr. Adler's themes deal primarily with intimate human relationships—the mysterious nature of love and attraction, the fragile relationships between husbands and wives and parents and children, the corrupting power of money, the aging process and how families cling together when challenged by the outside world. Readers and reviewers have cited his books for their insight and wisdom in presenting and deciphering the complexities of contemporary life.

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Welcome, Mr. Adler.

The Idea


all rights reserved, Warren Adler, copyright 2008
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I get my ideas from “everywhere.” It is, in many ways, a highly enigmatic and unsatisfactory answer. Perhaps I have trained my mind to seek out ideas for stories. Whether I am aware of it or not my antenna is always spinning. I seem to be on a perpetual search. This search takes me on multiple paths. I observe and listen to people. I read other novels and stories. I am tuned in to everything happening around me, the news of the day, the gossip, the conversations, arguments, opinions, words, images. Remember the play I Am a Camera? Indeed, if you want to tell stories, to write novels, you had better be a camera equipped with audio.

By some mysterious process, I glom on to situations, characters, imaginings, plots, what-ifs. It is a cacophony of sounds, colors, dialogue, observations and comparisons. Everything around me is part of a story. I suppose the mind processes this information into words, descriptions, conversations, organizes them into a story form, a beginning, middle and end. A novelist in his or her search for a story will throw their own experiences and memories into the mix of ideas, combine them with the immediacy of the surrounding world.

All lives are essentially narratives. The novelist cherry picks from what he or she sees and observes in their inner world and the outer world fueled by their sensory perceptions. Perhaps I am getting obscure, overwhelmed by an attempt to answer what is probably unanswerable. Sometimes I am amazed by what triggers a story in a writer’s mind. But suddenly the antenna focuses, magnifies, zeros in and an idea is born.

I can remember most of the “eureka” moments that triggered an idea that became a novel. A conversation with a friend in a London pub who had served as a British diplomat in China and had taken the regular mail run from Peking to Mongolia by train on a rail leg of the Trans-Siberian Express became the novel of the same name. A conversation with an Estonian Baron suggested my novel Blood Ties. Meeting a female detective in Washington became my “Fiona” series of mystery novels. A conversation at a dinner party with a man who was living with his hated wife while they were getting divorced became The War of the Roses. A funeral triggered the idea for Children of the Roses. It goes on an on.

I am convinced that a novelist must consciously train his or her mind to seek out stories. I know this could be a hard idea to grasp, but the true storyteller will know exactly what I mean. Note I have not gone into the phenomenon of writer’s block. Perhaps it comes from the sudden unwillingness of the mind to find the story channel in the brain. Patience will often recycle the process again like a computer that freezes and has to be shut down and restarted. Who knows?
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Whether or not all this explanation answers the question of where a novelist gets his or her ideas is moot. I can only hope that it conveys what mental gymnastics are required to find an idea, flesh it out with research or further observation and embark on the hazardous journey of creating a novel out of the idea.

One thing is certain. Every novel begins with an idea. The idea becomes a commitment and expands outward, like the old cliché of the pebble in the pond. Characters are created to embellish the idea. A plot is constructed to move the idea to a resolution, a climax. In my case, I can never be certain of this resolution. In fact I would rather not know since, I, too, am curious about what happens next. One of my novelist friends tells me that if he knew how his story would end, he would not begin to write it.
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Warren Adler is the author of 30 novels, including The War of the Roses and his latest, Funny Boys.

10 comments:

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Warren, at the risk of gushing, thank you for honoring us with this piece today. It's a thrill to have you here, and the ripples of anticipation have been fluttering through cyperspace for days.

I related well to your piece. When asked, "Where do you get your ideas?" by my readers, I often list... well, life. News events, neighborhood drama, colleagues' life challenges, movies, books, you name it. Every aspect of life triggers ideas, which often precipipate story ideas, which then grow into themes that end up in a book. It's a fascinating ride, isn't it?

Thanks again for writing this piece for us, and come again soon. I, for one, am going to check out your Fiona mystery series!!

Pat Bertram said...

Warren, I am pleased that you addressed the question of where you get your ideas. Too many authors hate the question and are contemptuous of those who ask it. Obviously, writers create their stories, but the idea (or at least the germ of the idea) has to come from somewhere.

chstress said...

This is way cool

Marta Stephens said...

Warren, I appreciate your openness on the subject--you’re so on the mark. I’ve found some of my best characters in the checkout line at the market and story ideas from a passing exchange. For me, it’s a matter of taking the ordinary, asking, “what if,” and letting the imagination run wild.

Thank you so much for joining us on MB4!

Lori S. from Gather said...

Hello Warren!
I am so glad that I didn't miss this! I find it very interesting where and how writers get their inspiration to create.
Sometimes it seems that poets and writers have different eyes.
By this I mean that we see life in general differently.
As an example, recently I was walking with an aquaintance and we came upon an elderly gentleman sitting on a bench in front of a store. This gentleman was dressed impecably in a suit complete with vest, hat and dress shoes. As we got closer I noticed that his attire was very worn around the edges and could smell his lovely cologne, perhaps Old Spice. He was addressing passersby with a huge smile, cheerful good morning and a tip of his hat. Anyway just as I was wondering about his life and his story my aquaintance said rather loudly, "That is disgusting, that old man begging like that!" I was literally appalled and took my companion by the arm, walked him away and told him that that 'old man' was only begging for a little attention and perhaps a good morning back. And, also that his appearance had inspired me! So, I went home and wrote one of my favorite poems, "When I am Old" which I have published on Gather.com.
This is what I mean when I say that writers and poets see things with 'different eyes'. And, I am very thankful that we do.
Thanks for all the great information. I love reading your insight and the reasons for your motivation. Take good care.....lori

Warren Adler said...

To all who commented on my piece about where we get our ideas. Thanks. You've just given me a new idea. Warren

Kim Smith said...

You said "I am convinced that a novelist must consciously train his or her mind to seek out stories. I know this could be a hard idea to grasp, but the true storyteller will know exactly what I mean" -- oh how true! the problem is that we sometimes forget our training!!

thanks for being here Warren!

Carmen said...

Mr. Adler, what a pleasure. Thank you so very much for being so candid, and sharing your thoughts with us. And you're so right: we start with what we know. I often take notes during news programs like "48 Hours" I get some good ideas from that.

Carmen Ruggero

s.w. vaughn said...

Warren, thank you for visiting our blog. I loved War of the Roses... /gush And I've just checked out Funny Boys - it's going on my TBR list. :-)

This is a great piece. It's inspiring to hear where ideas come from. Personally, I thank you most for this:

A plot is constructed to move the idea to a resolution, a climax. In my case, I can never be certain of this resolution. In fact I would rather not know since, I, too, am curious about what happens next.

It's good to know that rigid plotting / outlining is not necessary to write great novels. I rarely know the ending to anything I write, and "they" say you "must" know the end in order to produce anything worth reading. To "them" I say: phbbbt!

Maryann Miller said...

Wonderful post and so much fun to find out a little more about a well-respected writer. Thanks so much for sharing this, Warren. And I love your closing comment from your friend who said that if he knew the end of his book he would not begin to write it. Sometimes if we plan the story out too much, it loses the freshness that comes with just letting it evolve.