Ideas for stories collect like lint in the dryer, ready to be scooped out when my brain is bored.
“How do you come up with all your ideas?” is a strange question to answer. I could point to the part of my head where I think they swim around in the dark until they are called out to the page, but I’m not sure that’s really accurate. I’m pretty sure the real answer is the shower, a sink full of dirty dishes, long drives, or any semi-mindless task that keeps me from readily grabbing paper or computer to jot those ideas down.
I’m not sure what you guys do when you’re sweeping, vacuuming, or unloading the dishwasher. Maybe you’re thinking about every little thing your body is doing and are focused solely on those redundant tasks. Maybe your thinking about how meaningless it is to clean anything. I know I do. But usually my mind goes for a rambling walk through everything in my head. I often start out thinking about ideas or questions that I’ve gotten from books, news stories, or observing people and start flipping and twisting them. The ideas and questions collect like lint in the dryer, ready to be scooped out when my brain is bored. What if women were the ones to buy engagement rings for men? And what if those men wore them as their prized possessions? How different would that world be? What if serving others literally made you a stronger person? What is kindness? Justice? Envy? What role do they play in society? In my life? What if they didn’t exists? What if they were outlawed?
If I’m Lucky, Terrible Things Will Happen
Eventually, I lose track of what I’m really doing and get more interested in what is going on in my brain. One of my what ifs turns into a character faced with a situation that pulls my thoughts into a coherent chain of events or conflicts– hopefully some really horrible stuff. If I’m lucky, I can wipe the suds or dirt off my hands and scratch down a rough character or world outline. But usually these ideas simmer in the dark and rise again to the surface a few times before they make it to any written form, which is good because it allows the idea a lot of flexibility and I usually only remember the really good parts of the idea and forget the boring parts. I have notebooks and word documents full of these little idea, for when I’m ready to tackle a new project.
Orson Scott Card, in How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy says, “Good stories don’t come from trying to write a story the moment I think of the first idea . . . All the stories I was still proud of six months after writing them have come from ideas that ripened for many month– usually years– between the time I first thought of them and the time they were ready to put into a story.”
Transitioning from Daydreamer to Magician
Good ideas, themselves, are not the hardest or most impressive part of making a story. Anyone who is a serious day dreamer knows this. We’re living in a fog of ideas everyday, swatting them away in order to carry on with real life. Developing the story, the world, and characters and putting them down effectively, so that other people will be as interested in our ideas as we are, is where the real magic happens. Execution of those ideas is where a truly creative person will shine. The polishing of the idea and the story is a learned skill and involves a lot of hard work and quiet days of writing, rewriting, hacking that story into bits, and sewing it back together again.
Photo Credit: Kelly Sikkema