I love when story ideas pop out of nowhere. It’s like a half-popped kernel of popcorn. Some of the good stuff is protruding, while the real meat of the kernel remains buried under the husk.
Let me back up a bit. Last night I hopped up my brain on television. I needed my sci-fi fix and quenched it with an old episode of Star Trek NG and the season finale of Fringe (thank you DVR). Maybe it was the tacos or perhaps trying to explain the space-time continuum to my 5-yr old, but around 11pm something began to form.
This is part of my creation process. The idea is half-formed, I can’t even relay it in a complete sentence, it’s more of a feeling that something is there if I just look deep enough. It nagged at me all night, even as I dreamed my house was full of monkeys in tuxedos. (Must be the tacos.)
Then as I drove to work this morning, I began to pull it together.
It was really simple. Some believe, while others do not.
Believe what? Anything—in folding space, the earth is flat, religion, time travel. With the right characters, there might be a story here. In this case, I’m beginning with characters. They must be genuine with strong beliefs and there must be a foundation for those beliefs that shape the plot. Once I land on a plot, then the writing will be easy. These people will push and pull their own way through based on how, what and why they believe what they do.
To test how an idea might become something more, I throw it on paper….and I do mean throw. There are arrows, boxes and lists, questions and anything else that comes to mind. One bit builds—or pops—off the next until I begin to see structure. Somewhere, in there is a story and a group of characters that will make the reader suspend their disbelief.
Here’s what I got:
It’s rough and poses a lot questions, but does give me an idea for four characters that will play out their belief systems, maybe change their views or push themselves further because of what they believe. Yes, it’s a basically a brainstorming piece that can translate to an outline, but it’s not what’s on the paper that makes this a good tool. It’s how the ideas are on the paper. Seeing the unrelated bits juxtaposed and then rearranged like a jigsaw puzzle helps you see new possibilities for the story and the strongest elements will begin to crackle.
I use this technique for more than writing. It is a problem solving tool as well. It helps clarify your thoughts. Your subconscious will help you toss on the paper, the information to which you need to pay attention.