All right, so let’s sit down and think about this for a minute: where do story ideas come from?
Short answer: magic. But that seems like kind of an unfulfilling blog post, so in the interest of keeping you reading, let’s dive a bit deeper.
I’ve been on this personal journey lately, trying to “up my game” in the mindfulness category. Basically, I’m trying to be more aware of the moment I’m experiencing, trying to live in the immediate, while pushing aside the regrets of the past and worries about the future. That’s not to say that I’ve pledged to live an entirely unplanned existence bobbing through space taking whatever may come and figuring it out as I go along (although I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was a bit of that going on in my life). What I’m really working on is my focus. On what’s in front of me. On what’s important. On what’s now.
I think it’s a good philosophy for life and writing.
Last month I took a stab at NaNoWriMo. Total failure. I only reached a little over 15,000 words. Well short of 50K. (Cue the Wah, Wah sound.) One of my biggest short comings, I thought, was my inability to write without a conscience. During write-ins, the people around me would take off on a word sprint while I would sit frozen at the keyboard, wondering what the hell my characters should say or do now. I tried to chalk it up to a difference in writing style. I was a deliberate writer who really considered the words he put down on the page.
I was full of crap. The truth is I was thinking about everything else except the page in front of me. I had a scene, I knew where I wanted to end up, and I just needed to focus and write the damned thing. I think everyone else smoked me because they’d figured out how to get over themselves and just write. They focused on what was in front of them, did their jobs, and gave me a most righteous and well-deserved butt kicking. I am both grateful and sore, emotionally speaking.
If it seems like I’ve strayed a little off the topic of how to track and trap ideas, it’s because I have, but give me a few paragraphs more. As my brother likes to say, I’m taking you on a journey, but don’t worry, I’ll get you back to The Shire.
As goes life, so goes your writing, or so I believe. Chances are if you live a scattered and frantic life, your writing process will mirror that state of mind. I think mindfulness can help both. If you’re more in tune with the world around you, you’ll start collecting the seeds of stories almost everywhere you go. That’s the thing about ideas. They’re right out there in the open, no stalking or stealth required.
Here’s an example for you. Let’s say you’ve used the same dry cleaners for years. You go in about once a week, and for as long as you can remember it’s always been owned by Robert Dunn and his wife, Martha. Robert is an oddly formal man, but his wife is always warm and friendly. You always go in on a Thursday, and it never fails, Robert is always behind the counter dressed in a sports coat and tie. Though the color of the jacket may change, there is always a red rose pinned to the lapel. This week is different though. The rose is yellow, and Mrs. Dunn is nowhere to be seen.
If you are focused in on the everyday details of life, you’re more likely to notice when things stray from the routine. And the curious among us begin to wonder why the change occurred.
We all know that there is most likely a very simple (and boring) explanation for why Mr. Dunn changed the color of his rose on that particular day, but guess what? No one gives a damn about reading that story, so nurture the seed you collected, and see if you can’t get it to take root.
Just off the top of my head, I can think of three ways you might go with this story:
- Martha Dunn—She pins the rose on Robert’s lapel every morning. Red signifies love. Yellow can mean jealousy, or dying love. This could be a story about the secrets she’s keeping or those she has discovered about her husband.
- Robert Dunn—Robert chooses the rose. He has discovered his wife’s infidelity. What will he do about it, or has he already “solved” the problem?
- You, the patron—Simple remarks about the color of the rose and Martha’s absence makes Robert aware you have noticed the changes. He wonders what else you know. How well did you know his wife? Are you now part of the problem? What should he do about it?
The final idea is my favorite of the three because it involves a relatively innocent person stumbling into a hairy situation that will most likely require him or her to fight for survival. And while I’m sure there are many other ways to spin this germ of an idea, the main point is that you don’t have to do all the heavy lifting on your own. Ideas are everywhere. You just have to be open to them.
Try to be mindful of what’s going on around you. And be ready to take whatever you need.
Okay, so maybe it’s not the magic I promised you, but I am telling you to steal from those around you (more or less). And that kind of sounds like fun. So go forth and thieve.