Writing: The Idea
May 26, 2009
Hello again and welcome back!
As promised we’ll be talking about writing today. Don’t touch your keyboards yet. Most of the work we’ll be doing today will be up in your noggin.
“How do you get your ideas?” is the stock question at every comic convention and writers panel. It’s longevity can be accredited to the fact that regardless of how many times it’s asked everyone has a different answer. However a common answer to this quetion is, “Depends.” It really does depend on the creator and they all dip into a myriad of different sources to stoke the creative fires. Personally, I find inspiration at NPR. Their stories always touch on various topics and subjects, and their viewpoint often tends to be fairly unique with some excellent observations. I am also a huge history buff so I dip into that well for some concepts I like to explore. My most potent source of inspiration comes from none other than Ray Bradbury himself.
In his book, “Zen and the Art of Writing” he mentions an excellent exercise. Take an egg timer, turn it to 30 seconds and for that time period write down as many unique word combinations as possible. Don’t think about them just write. Let it all come out of you. When the timer expires you should have around twenty or so combinations. Many will be simple nonsense, but a few will jump out at you. Take those off to the side and explore them a little deeper. Go into self analysis mode and ask yourself, “What makes this interesting to me?” Is it the words themselves or does the phrase strike an old memory of yours? Then figure out the significance of that phrase. Once you have that you have a story idea.
Many, MANY writers have epic concepts, themes and ideas, but each one can always be boiled down to a sentence. The ability to be able to do this is one of the toughest and most valuable skills you can have, because when it comes time to pitch your project you’ll need to be able to answer the question, “What is your story really about?” This theme is the touchstone you can always refer back to while writing. It keeps you on target and prevents you becoming bogged down in details.
But I’m a writer I want to write something!!
OK, grab some paper and write your theme at the top. You can even write it backwards on your forehead if that’s what it takes to stay aware of what your story will be about. This is the most important part of your story. Without it, you’re simply jumping from one plot point to another and your audience will pick up on it.
You ever see a film and when it was over you were left with a, “meh” sort of feeling?
Yeah I saw Jumper err I mean, yeah.
I will bet you if you go back and analyze that story you’ll find either a lack of unifying theme or one so pushed into the background you were never quite aware of it to begin with. You have to keep this theme in the foreground of your mind. Use your story as a method to analyze your theme from as many perspectives as possible and assign each viewpoint to a character. WHAM! You’ve got the key to good drama; conflict. Not only that but conflict which centers around your theme. It feels natural in the context of the story because it is natural.
Time for the real life example. With this exercise I one day wrote the phrase, “The Electric Wonderoom.” It sounded bad ass to me so I went into self analysis. I’ve never encountered an electric wonderoom in real life so personal experience was no good to me. Then I started wondering what an electric wonderoom could be. I won’t tell you my answer since it’s our first “Tales From the Looking Glass” story. It definitely sounded like something everyone would want, and there was my theme; consumerism. Everyone wants one so they’re willing to do anything to get one, including suffocate a condemned man with a banana. This is something someone would kill for, the ultimate shiny bauble. Well what are the consequences of consumerism? Aha! conflict and plot emerging from the ether of my brain. With those answers in hand I began writing what remains one of my favorite stories. In five minutes I had a: title, theme, plots, and characters. Not a bad exercise eh?
next week: Characters!
See you in seven!