Thursday, June 14, 2012

Using True Ideas for Fiction

Dear Fellow Writer,

This Week

Had a weird dream last night about something that happened twenty years ago - funny how the mind does that...

Today, still working on the video interview with Robyn. Editing, makin' it sparkle! Should be ready in a day or so.

The Character Creation course is going really well. I'm learning as much as I'm teaching on this one! It's great fun to go back to basics.

Character Creation Course

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell


Using True Ideas for Fiction

Rob Parnell
We all do it. When looking for ideas, we plunder our own lives.

From using people we know as a basis for characters to plotting stories based on things that have happened to us. It's just natural: writers have been doing this since writing began.

But we should remember that it's not actually the ideas that impress us or inspire us to tell a story. No, it's the idea's effect on our current mindset that usually gets us going.

Everything we see and do is filtered through our emotions - the part of the conscious mind that is interacting with who you are now, at this moment.

This is why some ideas lose their appeal over time. Not because the idea begins to be a bad one - but because our emotional perspective is constantly changing.

We are becoming different people all the time.

Which can be a proverbial pain in the butt if we don't write very quickly!

There's nothing worse than getting half way through a novel and realizing the original idea for your magnum opus has lost its sheen. Sometimes we struggle to remember what it was about the idea that was originally so fascinating!

Worse, in an attempt to 'fix' the novel, as in regain our emotional attachment to it, we can end up writing a different book that merely masquerades as the first...

The notion that an idea's appeal to us is based on a passing mindset is an important one for us to grasp.

Also, we should always bear in mind that an idea that seems wonderful and fresh and new to us could well seem ordinary and trite to anyone else - because others simply do not have the emotional attachment to the the idea that we have.

I see this play out a lot with my students. Their attachment to a certain event in their lives - and the desire to use that as inspiration - is sometimes completely out of proportion to the validity of the idea.

Of course, writers can use anything as a starting point. Indeed, a certain emotional attachment to an idea is often the ideal starting point.

But there's a need to go further.

Fiction requires that an idea is expressed in a believable way. And sometimes real events can be less believable than fiction!

You need to be careful to question the validity of an idea for fiction especially if it's based on truth.

Too often a writer is told that there's a section in a story where a friend might say, that's unbelievable. Only for the writer to quickly respond, but that's the bit that's true! The problem being the writer has failed to question whether the true event was believable in the context of fiction.

Also, when it comes to writing about our lives, we have to remember that just because something that happened to us seemed fascinating and wonderful at the time, it doesn't mean that particular event will be fundamentally fascinating or wonderful to anyone else.

Whenever you think you have a good idea for a story, use the following checklist before setting pen to paper:

1. Is the idea believable?

Fiction requires logic - in plotting, character development and point of view. Don't accept that just because something is true that it necessarily has any validity in a fictional story.

Question the credibility of the idea in the context of your story. If it fails to propel to story satisfactorily, consider deleting it.

See what effect that deletion has on the story.

2. What exactly is the idea?

Ask yourself: Is this idea a starting point, a plot twist, or an important element of the conclusion?

Does you whole story hinge on this one idea?

If so, you may have a problem. A flawed story idea can make a manuscript totally unsellable. And people - editors, agents and publishers - have an annoying habit of pointing out ideas that are flawed!

3. Does the idea work out of context?

One of the best ways to check an idea is valid it to take it completely out of context.

Imagine the idea within the context of an alien civilization. Or in amongst a different set of people or environment.

Would it work if the characters were completely different? Young, old, animals, androids?

4. If you had no emotional attachment, would the idea still work?

You need to take off those rose colored glasses and view the idea dispassionately. Admittedly this can be hard - especially if the idea has been wrapped up in your 'being' for a long time.

I knew a guy who based a fat series of fantasy novels on one event during his childhood that he found out later had never actually happened - he just thought it had.

Not only did it invalidate the entire premise of his story, he was crushed for a long time after he knew the truth. (He never sold the novels by the way.)

5. Could the idea be dropped if need be?

This is the very best test of an idea. When writing fiction, logic dictates that any idea is interchangeable if it starts to mess with the story. Usually, a fiction writer can and should drop an idea in favor of another more believable one.

When it comes to emotionally charged ideas - that is, our personal darlings - writers often can't let go, which is a sure sign it 'sticks out' and may not be serving the story at all.

It takes courage to take out your favorite bits - even when you know deep down they don't work!

If you're feeling this way about an idea, it could well be that you need to face - and question - your emotional attachment to it and perhaps deliberately remove it, just to see if the story isn't better without it.

It often is.

Even if it was the starting point of the whole project!  

Keep writing!
 rob at home
”Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don't see any." Orson Scott Card
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