Thursday, 7 March 2013

How do I come up with new stories?

I am often asked how I come up with new stories and how I think of the ideas that I do; I would guess all writer’s are asked the same questions many times. In fact I have myself wondered how certain authors have come up with ideas that I would never have considered. On the other end of the scale, there are stories like William P. Kennedy’s Toy Soldiers, a story that I could kick myself for not coming up with myself, even though I hadn’t started writing when he jotted that one down! As with all budding writer’s, there will be people around that will always come up with a great idea before yours has sprung into your brain, or worse that you find after you’ve written something, that it’s similar to.

It is even true that my first novel ‘Something Brand New’ bares a resemblance to the first J K Rowlings Harry Potter novel. When I wrote it I had not even heard of Harry Potter, let alone read it. Don’t get me wrong there are no wizards, no flying games or castles in my manuscript, but there is a young ten year old soul looking for his future parents in a world only a breath away from our own. Combined with that is a style, not too dissimilar from the one she uses, I will confess. Actually when rewriting the novel some ten years later, there was one paragraph that sounded so similar to her words I decided to completely rewrite it.

I have also found this Christmas just gone that there is a story about Santa crashing his sleigh. For those of my readers who have seen the film ‘The Santa Incident’, in my opinion a rather poor effort in comparison to some great festive movies, there could be an idea that one of us writers had got the idea from the other. Now I am unpublished and only came up with my first idea for ‘The Late Christmas’ in 2006 so the writer of that couldn’t have got his idea from me, and yet the film I watched a couple of months ago couldn’t be more different, and yet somehow similar.

Luckily, my baby, who is right now being rewritten for the umpteenth time ‘Mother Nature’, doesn’t as yet have anything that I can compare it to. I think the day that I find something similar will be a sad one for me.

Anyways, what was I saying? Oh yes, as some of you know I am a fan of some of Stephen King’s work, most notably The Stand. Mr. King has said in public that it take two totally separate ideas brought together to make a good story. It sounds a strange thing to say, but the more I thought about it, the more that he makes quite a bit of sense. Lets take the above story Toy Soldiers as an example. Basically the story revolves around an all boys school for troubled teenagers – there’s a story right there that many of us could write, but then the author added a completely unrelated story into the mix. While we learnt the characters and the rules of how the school was run, another story about a terrorist group who are trying to force the release of the founder-member, who is incarcerated. The terrorists make their way to the school and take the pupils hostage as a lever to getting their member freed. This is a classic example of how two separate ideas can indeed be bonded together to make one quite enjoyable read.

When Stephen King was asked how he writes a book, he came back with ‘One word at a time.’ This of course is exactly how you actually write a book, but certainly this was not what the person asking the query was meaning. In literal terms, an author will start with a blank sheet of paper, or a blank document on a computer, and start typing. However, it is entirely formulary, with the author working from models or ideas in his mind, the idea of writing one word at a time before coming up with the next word is ludicrous. Moreover, when I go over what I have written on a first draft, I will often find that I have missed out words, phrases or sometimes even half a sentence because I am desperate to get the words down in the way I have them in my mind as quickly as possible, before the synaptic patterns change or completely degrade.

However, let’s go back to Stephen’s ‘One word at a time’ because there is some truth in that, although not for a first, second or even third draft of a manuscript, but for the editing. When editing a piece of work, every word in their singularity as well as within the context of the sentence is looked at very carefully. One slight change of a word can completely change the meaning of the sentence, and placing that same word in a different place within the sentence can not only do the same, but can enhance even the shortest of notations.

In the past couple of weeks I have come up with two fairly good ideas, which if I had more time I would like to pursue. Both these ideas came to me during that half awake, half asleep state before dozing off for the night, and both times I woke up and started writing my ideas down – which tends to mess up my sleep patterns quite well. As it happens, for both of these possible stories, I have a completely different idea that I’ve already started to merge into the first ideas, one at the very end of a story, the other as a parallel plot.

Now don’t ask me how I came up with these ideas because I really couldn’t tell you, they just popped up in my head. Also, when thinking about them I suddenly popped up and thought of a completely different story that could be squished into them… maybe it’s just an active imagination, that’s all I can put it down to. Now there are times that other things around me have influenced my train of thought about stories. For instance, I had on the back-burner a few years ago the idea of Santa crashing his Sleigh, as I’ve already said, but it was only when I was listening to a track from Moby did it come alive.

It was the day I was moving into the Farm down on the Lizard. I had asked for a few people to help with the move, and sprucing up the place so that it was liveable. We were all in different rooms painting everything that didn’t move, and many of us that were moving, if truth be told! In the background I had my jukebox on random and ‘Everlovin’ by Moby came on. I was happily painting away and in my mind I imagined large American eighteen wheeled trucks in a convoy, rolling across the American desert… listen to it and I bet you’ll know why I had that image. Well then I added to the images in my mind, the trucks filled to the brim of Christmas presents, then a large teddy bear symbol on the front of each truck, then helicopters with the same symbol on them flying above the trucks with large sacks dangling from them. Lastly, I had crowds of people cheering as each of the thousand trucks passed them because their presents were being distributed to all the homes… all within one sitting of the Moby track. The Late Christmas, the story I had on the backburner for three years previous to that day had taken a completely different route all within about a foot square of paint… It was within the month that I started to write the full manuscript, and if I don’t say so myself, it turned out cherry :)

So lets recap on my ideas and how I get them down. Often I will come up with an idea and that idea will sit on the backburner for a while; maybe get written down as notes or on a corkboard. When another idea comes up that can be linked into it, I will add it to the first. Only then will it start to show it’s colours and whether there is something to continue with. At that point I will often write a chapter or two, quickly and in draft to see whether I can put down on paper in a way that resembles what I have in my mind; not one word at a time but in a flurry of finger presses on the keyboard, or scribblings on paper that are hardly legible. If I find there is something meaty in the idea then I consider writing a full manuscript… and that is about it.

I have often been told that I’m eccentric and that my mind works in mysterious ways, but I can’t help that. I’m sure if you ask other writers how they come up with their ideas, they will give you a different story, but that’s what makes us all unique. Happy writing all of you.

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Fred Deakin
Design Engineer & Writer