Hey all! Megan here. People often wonder how writers come up with ideas, so I’m here to fill you in on how The Extra came to be.
Corny though it sounds, the truth is this: The idea came to me in a dream.
I partially blame my lifelong on-again/off-again love affair with “The Young and the Restless” for this one, but really, I’ve gotten several of my best story ideas from dreams. I’ve always had fairly vivid dreams, and a surprisingly good memory for the details of them (surprising given that I can never remember where I parked, or what password I use for iTunes. But that weird-ass dream from five nights ago? Locked in. Thanks, Brain!)
During many of these dreams, I also have a little voice in my head that fancies herself a writer but is more like a drunk motivational speaker who thinks she’s a lot more helpful than she actually is. She’s always like “Remember this dream! This is the one, you beautiful genius! This story has it all!” And then I wake up, full of enthusiasm for this incredible story I’m going to tell about . . . zombie penguins? WTH?
So yeah. Not every one is gold—far from it. But several years ago, I had this fabulous, fun dream about girl who became an extra on a soap opera. This girl came from a family of over-achievers, but she most definitely was not. She was a girl who didn’t know where her life was going and had no idea how one goes about figuring this out. But she needed money, and her gorgeous actress roommate had just gotten a role on this soap opera set in a hospital. . .
And thus the character of Gabby and the basic plot of The Extra emerged in my sleeping brain. Not all the pieces were there, of course, but a good number of them were—Gabby’s crush on the cute-but-taken scriptwriter, Will; the sexy soap-star she referred to as Hot Doctor (aka HD); her close friendship with her roommate; her general family dynamic.
Little drunk writer in my head was cheering this story on the whole time—”You want to write this one! So fun! So much potential!” And when I woke up, I was thrilled to find that I agreed with her.
At the time, I was in the midst of querying a young adult urban fantasy novel I’d written (also inspired by a dream I’d had), and working on various short stories. As crazy-fun as it sounded, this new chick-lit/rom-com book idea was so different from the fantasy/sci-fi stuff I’d been writing, that I decided to shelve it for a while.
But Gabby’s voice and story wouldn’t let me go, and I found myself coming back to it and adding more and more, a little at a time. Eventually, I had written about three-quarters of the book. . . and then had no idea how to move forward. I knew how it should end, but I had no idea how to tie together all the plot threads I’d set up to get there.
Fortunately, by this point I was friends (and writing partners on an epic fantasy series) with the brilliant Janci Patterson. She helped me use a beat sheet (from the book Save the Cat) to determine how to pull together everything to get Gabby to that swoon-worthy ending she so richly deserved.
Not only did Janci help me figure out how to finish this book, her love for it and the characters brought a whole new level of excitement to the project. We started brainstorming ideas for the next two books, about Gabby’s roommate, Anna-Marie, and Gabby’s brother, Felix, respectively.
By this point, I already knew how much I enjoyed collaborating with Janci, and it was a no-brainer to ask her to write this series with me, both on the future novels and in revising The Extra to help turn it into the awesome book it is now. (I’d say I begged her, but she was so excited about these books, I didn’t need to. Which is too bad for her. I was willing to bribe with LOTS of those weird pickle-flavor chips she loves so much.)
So there you have it. The Extra started as a dream—literally—and ended up a full-fledged book (and the beginning of a whole series) and I feel pretty dang lucky about all of it.
But I doubt I’m going to be writing about zombie penguins anytime soon.