Cultivating Ideas

Sometimes when I am grouply conversing, I inevitably encounter a person that asks the question, “How do you come up with those stories?”

To be honest, I often feel as though it’s a loaded question. It’s certainly not one that I can answer with just one word; and I’ve come to realize that many people are only looking for a simple explanation of it, or they really aren’t interested, and are only passably making small talk.

One of the reasons though, that I feel the question is a loaded one, is because I can only speak for myself, and when I do, it often comes across as bragging. How does one convey the spark of creativity that we as authors have within us?

I have always been an advocate and proponent of writing; I firmly believe that anyone is capable of it, and with practice and time, can become great at it. I understand that many may feel as though they can’t write, and that they lack the one thing I am always being accused of having too much of: creative imagination. But you see, creativity and imagination are only a small part of it.

For me it always comes down to two more important aspects: ideas and observation. We need to be able to recognize the idea of a good story when one comes to us. Inspiration is a good tool, but like all tools can dull and lose its edge over time. As a writer, I am always on the lookout for a new idea; a new what if, so to speak. And the beautiful thing about ideas, is that they can come from anything, anyone, or anywhere. To offer an example, I was talking to a friend on my porch once, and we were going on about the proliferation of some specific genre that I felt was sucking the industry dry, and then he says to me, “You just have to come up with some new spin on that kind of story.”

Well, that’s easier said than done. I off-handedly remarked that, “Well, to something like that, I’d have to reinvent the freaking wheel, and do something absolutely stupid. Like making a Vampire story with robots.”

Now when I said those words, I had what I like to call, a “Writer’s Moment”, one of those small time- stoppers that causes me to stand still and mentally go back through the stenographer’s last sheet of paper, and make sure what was said was actually said. Sure enough it was a wild and crazy “what if” moment that had me suddenly fascinated and intrigued. Could a story be written about Vampires and Robots? Whose to say. But I know that I’ve learned to recognize those types of moments that come along and bring with them the fertile soil that is rich with all the minerals for planting a story.

I don’t just sit down and let the wind take my pages to where ever they may blow. Despite my abhorrence for note taking, I often meticulously work out scenarios and events in the book in my head. I mumble out the dialogue, and I try my best to mentally run the idea from start to finish.

I never approach a story from the perspective of a Hollywood film. I have friends that can only see the explosions and gunfire in everything, and only want to waste a readers time with trying to emulate what everyone else is doing; but that’s not a story. Never cultivate an idea from the perspective of an action film, and for God’s sake, never ever try to use Hollywood blockbuster plot logic on a book. Sure, I sometimes go visual with my stories, they are very “movie-like” in how I write them, because I see them as a type of film; but that’s as far as it goes.

When you write, and begin to nurture those ideas, make damn sure of two things. That it seemed believable. No matter how fantastic of a subject, no matter how many worlds away or however many years in the future it takes place, make the reader think it could happen. And two; make sure that the actions taken are taken because it makes sense. Don’t just randomly put your good guy in a dark and scary house, when any sane rational intelligent person would be hauling ass out of there. Make the decisions in your book be as equally believable as the narrative.

With all good stories, I advise that you set a goal for the ending, but be willing and flexible enough to deviate from that should your story deem it necessary. When writing Mr God, I had a completely different ending intended that would play out in a completely different place; and through the fine-tuning, and the tweaking, I realized that having the ending happen where it does, is so much more insane and wild than the cookie cutter version I originally set.


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