Saturday, 25 February 2012

My Writing Process - Step One - Thinking of a story

So, the first step is to think of a story right?  Right.

People often ask the question, 'how can I come up with a story?'  I remember reading someone's post on a writing forum once, complaining how they had sat at the computer trying to think of a story, but nothing would come.  My advice was to stop trying.  That would be the worst way to come up with ideas.  Such inspiration needs the imagination to be free, not confined.  So, how can you think up a story? For me the word 'think' is key here.  When I come up with a story I walk around, living in my head, thinking the story through in various ways, well before my hands come anywhere near the keyboard.  Essentially, I daydream.

I've always been a daydreamer.  I frequently slip into my little dream world, off on some fantasy or other.  As a child I would write them down, and of course these were my first stories.  As an adult I still did the daydreaming, but the writing ... well there was limited time.  'Life' takes over.  Only in recent years have I realised the potential for these stories to develop into novels.  So, now I'm a writer.

If you're a daydreamer, wake up, and start building your dreams into stories.  Daydreaming is not only good for us it is also pure imagination - on tap.  And it is the imagination we need to harness when thinking of stories.

I have many stories outlined and I have many story 'kernels' stored in the memory bank.  I'm confident of thinking of many more in the future too!  And they all come about through daydreaming.

The way I 'do' daydreaming, mostly, is by taking the dog for a walk.  When I really want to mull something over we go for very long walks, for three or four hours even.  Sometimes I have a cup of tea or pour a glass of wine and sit and watch the garden.  This is great for daydreaming too.  The whole time I live in the daydream, imagining the story.  It's like watching a DVD in my mind, only I play scenes over, and in various ways, refining the story and the characters.

Walking Fido - everybody wins!

While daydreaming may not always be the instigator of my ideas, it is the way in which I refine the ideas.  It's like a testing and filtering process in which the plot is examined and ideas are sorted, some are developed further, others deleted.  When the idea becomes more certain I begin the next step - outlining.  But the daydreaming will be important throughout the whole process.

Ways in which I get those initial ideas include -

  • Conversations - I have a friend who has the best gossip in the world.  We see each other about once every month or two, and when we meet I pour the wine and she starts the talking.  I often joke that I need my notebook.  Now, when she wants to tell me something really juicy, she will say, "I've got a good one for your book".  Sounds terrible doesn't it?  But, the point is that real life stories can give us an idea.  One of my novels came about because my partner told me about a man he knew who lived on his boat.  He spends a week or two in one place, then sails on to the next.  I found this fascinating and almost immediately started daydreaming what that must be like.  A few weeks later I had my novel planned.
  • Reading - reading novels is a great way to spark the imagination.  I often think 'imagine if this happened instead' and that will get me going on another idea.  Reading non-fiction can also spark ideas.  The newspaper is full of riveting stories waiting to be embellished.
  • Dreams - I mean the sleep dreams here, not the daydreams.  Sometimes those wacky dreams we have are fascinating stories, or at least ideas for stories.  If you do have such a dream you need to force yourself to get up and write it down.  I've lost many story ideas by believing I would remember the dream, and roll over to sleep.  But I never do remember them and a fascinating story is lost forever, agh!
  • Music - once when we were driving back from the city we were playing a music mix in the car.  A Cuban song came on and I imagined a bar scene.  I annoyed my partner as I had to keep replaying that song to 'dream out' the scene in my head.  That was how I got the idea for my novel, 'The Viscount's Son'.
  • Past experience/memories - so many opportunities here, need I say more?  Go on a trip down memory lane and dredge up something for a story.  It might be embarrassing, funny, or sad.  But, if it evokes these emotions for you, chances are it will for others too.  I often do this when I think about the characters in my story.  Some of my characters have a little of me in them, others, my unsuspecting friends (and enemies)! 

So what if you still can't think of anything?  Well, you've probably got to stop trying and let your imagination do some daydreaming for you. And if you're still having trouble? I might sound controversial here, but maybe you're not cut out?  I believe the main ingredient for writing is having a vibrant imagination.  Not everyone does.  I've seen work by people who can wax lyrical about the technicalities of writing, but their stories are oh so dull.  

If you have ways of coming up with a story idea let me know, I love this topic!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Aderyn, I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this subject very much. I started writing when my daydreams got to large to keep inside my head. Once I started writing them, they just kind of spilled out. I've written over 15 full length books.

    I like your list of "starters". I once wrote a whole story around an abandoned house I saw in rural Arkansas.

    I also think reading helps me jumpstart my imagination. Oftentimes, I'll think, "Yeah, I liked that plotline, but this is the way I think I'd do it." And I'm off.

    I just contracted my first full length book. The kernel of that plotline came out of a movie I watched.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Stop by and read my newest post. It's on a very similar subject.