This is a softball/cotton candy kinda post.
In all honesty, my resources are stretched so thin at this point, I really don’t have much else to spare but thoughts as thin as lightly floating wisps of super-heated pink sugar. So please forgive the lameness of this post.
Sitting in my chilly living room this morning, I indulged in one of my MANY vices, watching terrible movies instead of working. On the television: Timeline starring Paul Walker and Billy Connolly. Opposite my television, on the computer monitor: a certain story that has been the bane of my existence for nearly two years now.
Paramount Pictures 2003
It is not the quality or depth of this particular Richard Donner/Michael Crichton movie that keeping me from working. No, nothing that simple.
Okay, I’ll admit it. I was ignoring my computer…..
The final edit I am working on is a particular story that has been the hardest of all the twelve tales in Survival Pod #1 & 2 to work on. It is one of the few times I honestly don’t see the vision my editor has in mind with her corrective notes. So I found it easy to get lost in the movie instead of working.
I have full faith in my editor and her skills. I agree with her totally, the story is missing something. However, the direction she advised has proven problematic for several reason, one of which is I have never written a story with these type of undertones and emotions in it.
Not being one to back down from a challenge, as far as my writing goes, I refuse to give up despite the magnitude of this Sisyphean mental challenge. So again, its time to “Switch the Flip! or Get The Pig!”.
While my mind figures out how to do this, I decided to answer a question I get on a pretty regular basis, “How do you come up with your story ideas?” with today’s blog post.
I have heard many an author answer this question and I don’t think I have ever heard a response I was satisfied with. Knowing that piece of knowledge does not set the bar very high for this post, does it?
Regardless, I will try to explain my process as best I can.
Most of the time, ideas come about organically.
Encyclopedia Brittanica 2006
Someone around me will say something or I will read an interesting article that takes seed in my mind and grows into something. Sometimes movies or music will lend inspiration, causing me to move on an idea or thought process that was already hidden inside but didn’t have the momentum to take hold. These are generic processes that everyone has the ability to do and you as a writer should be very familiar with.
The creative magic happens after the seed has taken root. When one starts to tear apart the who, what, where, when, and why of an idea. It is in the resulting mess that hopefully a story will appear.
One of the ways I do this is by taking things out of context and putting them where they don’t belong.
Take this morning as an example:
While watching Timeline I started thinking about roving armies circa. The Hundred Years Wars. Vast peasant armies, forced into services by their lords, spreading across the French countryside rampaging and pillaging.
From there I start to wonder what it would be like if that were to happen today. Literally, a planet Earth where warlords march across modern countries like America. Would it be a modern civilization that never broke from feudalism and still accepted the rules of medieval combat tactics?
Paramount Pictures 2003
What would the world be like if the Magna Carte had never been written or signed? How does one survive in an America that never knew modern democracy, fed instead by blood borne of the brutal yoke from a feudalistic system of government?
Why would the Duke of Georgia march his armies across the south, razing every town in his path? What would Detroit look like if it were under siege for years, like a combat action during the Crusades? Would a peasant from New York give a hoot about the shadow of court in Washington as long as his lord didn’t call for his service in the fields of war?
See what I mean?
The details don’t matter at the starting point, that moment when the idea sparks to life. Once the ball starts rolling, details like: characters, story arcs, plot twists, will all come naturally as the process roars to life. Once you really start to think about an idea, in this case by taking something out if its ordinary environment and placing it into a situation that seems completely alien, a great story can quite literally appear out of your head.
(Not that I’m saying any story about medieval armies marching across the American South is on the hit list for Survival Pod Issues #3 or 4)
By exploring changes in perspective, context, or environment and not just the who, what, when, where, how, and why of an idea during the initial creation stages, a writer can discover a multitude of fruitful paths to wander down when brainstorming.
Remember: the story is already in your head, sometimes to bring it to life you just need to “Switch the Flip!”
The seed can come from anywhere, the key is giving it the right environment to grow in. Imagination, an open mind, and persistence is the best fertilizer for a story to grow in.
In mathematical terms that would be: A glimmer of interest + bullshit + hard work = a story.
What you do with the story after that is up to you.