Yesterday I looked up the names of the nine Ancient Greek muses, which is the sort of thing you find yourself doing when you’re trying to solve a cryptic crossword. The clue pointed to a muse with a name five letters long, ending in –o.
Anyone who knows this name without reading further…give yourself a gold star. I didn’t; the only two I could remember unaided were Clio (the muse of history) and Terpsichore (dance and song.) When I found the complete list, I saw the one I wanted was Erato. She’s the muse of erotic poetry and (my list says) mimicry. An odd juxtaposition, that…but all the myths surrounding these goddesses are weird.
I’m sure you’re dying to know who the rest of them were –yes, of course you are. There’s Thaleia, the muse of comedy; Euterpe, lyric poetry; Calliope, epic poetry; Melpomene, tragedy; Urania, astronomy; and Polyhymnia, divine hymns and harmony.
It’s disappointing that none of them were responsible for prose writing, let alone mystery and detective fiction. Having our own muse would be useful for answering that Frequently Asked Question that confronts all mystery authors: “Where do you get your ideas?”
It’s a fair question, but I don’t find it easy to answer. I’d like to be able to reply, “Naturally I seek inspiration from Whodunnito, the muse of mystery stories.”
But no; as Victoria might have said, “We are not a-mused.”
Oh well, I’ll attempt a serious answer; a personal one of course, because all writers do things differently. For me, some ideas are so basic to a book that I have to sort them out before I start writing anything. I like to choose the location and the year of each of my books; Roman Britain wasn’t a homogenous whole, and I need to know the when and the where of my story exactly. And I like to have an idea of the main crime, who did it, how and why…in rough outline anyhow. This may all result from research, or brainstorming with friends, or just bashing the little grey cells to deliver something new and fresh.
Most details of story and characters will come when I’ve started writing, or at least working out the plot. I don’t like to plot in too much depth beforehand, I find that makes the writing itself too mechanical, so I rely on fresh ideas flowing into my head anywhere and any time, whether I’m pounding my keyboard, delving into books, surfing the Internet, listening to the day’s news…or out and about thinking of something else entirely.
The ones that arise by pure serendipity are the most unpredictable and the most fun. They can be triggered by anything at all: a flash of childhood memory perhaps, a phrase of music, or a brief snatch of conversation. Part of the plot of one Aurelia mystery came from two women I overheard on a train: one remarked, “It beats me why they’re so determined to buy that house, it’s nothing special,” and her friend laughed and answered, “Maybe they think there’s treasure buried in the garden.” Click! Flash-bang! Gotcha!
Yes, the world is full of ideas, which is why it’s so hard to pinpoint where they come from. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to offload the responsibility onto a muse?