If you’ve read or listened to interviews, you’ll hear stories of inspiration striking authors while driving, taking a shower, mowing their lawn, eating lunch…insert mundane activity here.
But they’re right. A person who is actively searching for inspiration, and dedicated to faithfully recording the inspiration when it strikes will find himself awash in all sorts of ideas. But an idea isn’t a story by itself. It’s still just an idea.
For example, I realized recently that I have a personal obsession with sad stories, tragedies, and general melancholy in life. I am a cheerful person on the whole, but I have down-swings into depression at frequent intervals. My highs are pretty high and my lows are very low.
I had the idea that an obsession with melancholy or sorrow would be an interesting focal point in a story, but I didn’t know where to go with it. I could gather thoughts on sadness and grieving and tragedy together, but this just seemed like an essay without any fiction anywhere.
I have nothing against essays, but an essay wasn’t the goal. I wanted a story.
My writer friend, Scott, passed along this information to me, which he learned through Neil Gaiman, an author I particularly admire.
Before writing a story, a writer should have to things. A concept, and characters to go with it. This might mean gathering together story concepts and story characters separately until two of them gel in such a way that they’ve ignited to start their own story.
Once you have both in idea and characters, you have enough to begin framing your story. So I took my idea and started mulling over what kind of character might fit into a story about an obession with sadness. A happy college student? A tragic, homeless nobody? A clown? An escape artist? A bookworm? An actress?
I felt my way through the kind of story my potential characters would create and after a while it hit me–what if I had a character that quested for a perfect experience of sadness, hoping to trap it forever? Then I knew I’d hit something. My story was a quest.
This was enough to start my thoughts cranking through character sketches and possible scenes and scenarios.
Recap: It began with an idea, I added a character to the mix, and then the story began to flow from the combination. I was honestly surprised by how quickly it happened. Scott told me this story-building technique less than 24 hours ago and I’m already running with it.
This can begin with characters, too, by the way.
Do you have a character who’s been haunting you and you need an overarching concept/idea to serve as your thematic springboard? Do you have a bunch of crazy cool ideas that need characters to bring them to life? Toss them up here in the comments and let’s see what we can come up with together.