Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Idea (without passion) = dud

Those people who are idea factories? Who come up with so many cool ideas they have to play eny-meenie-miny-mo to pick which to work on next? Those people frustrate me. One of them is a close friend of mine. (She's also a writer). I love her. I admire her. I admire her ideas, but I also want to strangle her when she starts yet another conversation with that dreaded "Oh, I had a great idea last night! Let me tell you about it." (And really, they are great ideas. She amazes me).

See, I have come up with exactly 4.5 good story ideas in my life (add a few more fractions if you count short story ideas). I get a lot of wonderful ideas to add to my 4.5 stories or to put a nice twist into an existing plot, but not anything original enough to boost that basic number up to 5.5. (Or even just 5.0).

But I also believe that our brains have an "idea muscle" and if we exercise it, amazing things can happen. When I'm brainstorming to flesh out one of my 4.5 story ideas, or to fix a plot hole, I start working this muscle with lots of "what if" questions, and soon cool things start to happen.

But that's with an existing plot idea to start with. What if you have to start from scratch?

What if, say, you are so fed up with your idea-less self that you decide to join a friend (like Sophia Richardson) in something crazy cool like a challenge to come up with 30 loglines/pitches in 30 days?

I spent the first six days of said 30 days scratching my head. Even with some great idea-catching tools that Sophia provided  (here's three of them)....

30 Pitches Pitstop #1 (some great tips here)
This is How I Do It (her process for evolving ideas into a pitch)
What's in a Pitch (the basic pitch components)

...I still came up with... zilch.  Experiences from my life? Booorrring. The only one worth exploring, in my opinion, I had already used in plot idea #3 out of 4.5.

Newspaper/magazine articles? Blech. Lots of ideas, but not enough spark to get them to that next evolutionary stage, the logline. Also known as the pitch. A character in conflict with consequences, in one to two sentences.

It finally occurred to me: ideas without passion were duds. The missing crucial element was passion.

What am I passionate about? (besides my family and horses. Oh, please not another kid/horse story).

Well, my own blog sidebar convienently reminded me: I love history, faith, maps and mythical creatures.

I started thinking about some of my favorite moments in history (ones hopefully not written about already). Ideas started popping like popcorn. Not very original ones, but at least the ol' idea muscle was flexing a little. Great stories of faith, ditto.

With a germ of an idea,
even if it's not very original,
if it's about something that EXCITES you,
it is only a matter of time
before you figure out
how to put a new spin on it.

Maps - well that one stumped me for a while. I'm a geography geek with maps plastered all over the walls of my home and office - but, how to get a story from that?  Then  I read Elana Johnson's most excellent post this Monday - Mixing the Strange with Normal.

Take one normal thing, a map, and mix it with a strange thing (or, not-normal thing) like... take your pick. Time travel (a  map that takes you back in time). Or, dual personalities (a double-sided map with a dark side). Oh yeah, fun ideas really started percolating. Perk, perk - no caffeine required (well, maybe a little. And a little chocolate never hurts, either). 

Then I looked at mythical creatures. There are whole encyclopedias written about mythical creatures, which I have been known to waste countless hours at work on my own time browsing through. Information overload!

So first I made a list of my favorite creatures, then I crossed out all the common ones that everyone loves to write about: dragons, zombies, vampires, faeries, werewolves, changelings and other shapeshifters (not that I wouldn't love to write about these. But I figured I might need to barter my soul to come up with a truly original idea).

Then I added a few bizarre ones to my list, ones I bet most people haven't heard of (unless you grew up in or studied about their country of origin). I started skimming the myths and folklore on these creatures. Put a spin on this myth, change the location on that myth, a modern-retelling of another myth - ideas bubbling all over the place.

Idea high! Idea rush! Idea overdose! Oh my mythical madness, what fun.

What's your favorite idea for coming up with ideas?

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