Stories come to me in pieces: a character here, an image there. Sometimes, when I try to put those pieces together, I get it wrong. Isabel Ryans, the protagonist of The Butterfly Assassin, was originally the secondary character in a completely different book – one that was so lacking in plot I never managed to get to the end.
I could tell she was interesting enough to rescue from that book, but I couldn’t figure out what her story was. I needed the final piece of the puzzle, to bring my random collection of pieces together. In the end, it came not through divine inspiration, but from frantically learning French vocabulary ahead of an exam.
While one part of my brain was playing around with ideas for a book – assassins, an alternate universe setting of some kind, this character I’d retrieved from an abandoned novel – the other half was trying to learn a long list of vocab. Glamorous, I know. And one of the words on there was papillon de nuit. Moth. Butterfly of night.
“That’s so hardcore,” I said. “It sounds like an assassin’s nickname.”
And suddenly, the pieces began to fall into place.
It’s been like that throughout the process, with each draft: as I ponder how to bring together different ideas, or struggle with worldbuilding, some serendipitous piece of information from elsewhere in life will provide the key. What does the city look like? Here’s a blog post about the Berlin Wall and its graffiti. What is the main purpose of the guilds? Here’s an article about the arms trade. What kind of weapon would these characters use? Oh look, the Salisbury poisonings just happened, and now my Google searches about nerve agents look really suspicious…
The truth is much stranger than fiction, I’ve found, and so it makes great kindling for stories.