“When You Get an Idea For a Story … What Do You Do with It?”
December 31, 2015 24 Comments
I was asked this question recently by someone who was interested in my wide variety of book genres (prospectively, light fantasy, mainstream, and an upcoming biography, young adult romance, and historical young reader’s).
I love the way this question was carefully formed. It wasn’t the generic, “How do you get ideas for a story?” That’s like asking how I got my naturally dark brown hair, or how I got my rugged good looks, or my sharp flare for sarcasm. I just … have them.
I didn’t ask for a good idea. I just had one. (Okay, there’s an answer here, which I’ll probably go into depth in a different post.)
But back to the question at hand: “When you get an idea … what do you do with it?”
Pixar’s Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-e) once said in an article that a story is like shaping clay. You work at shaping it, molding it, and rearranging it in order to make it look like something you want it to specifically represent.
For instance, with my light fantasy novel, The Man in the Box, my lump of clay was simply the idea of: “What would a Narnia for grown-ups look like? What if, instead of kids happening upon an imaginary world, a grown man with a mortgage and a family discovers a world he prefers over his own?” Once I had that concept down, that’s when I began shaping and molding it into the book it is today (second edition coming soon).
For my mainstream novel, I Am the Lion, the lump of clay looked more like this: “What goes on in the mind of a child whose been through a devastating tragedy and how would she cope?” There’s a twist to this one that I don’t want to give away here that takes everyone who reads it by surprise.
My biography, Profit Over Patients, already had the story in place. It’s a David and Goliath story about a physician who sued a multibillion-dollar insurance company for unfair treatment and unlawful termination, all while he’s dealing with his own tragedies at home. The trick with this one is all in the telling.
There you have it. I take that idea and I treat it like a lump of clay and I shape it and mould it and manipulate it into what I want it to look like by the time I present it to the public.
And I always want to present my very best work to you, the public. And I never take shortcuts.
I know the answer is a little vague for now, but if this post sparks any more questions about writing or creating stories in general, I would love to hear them below and I will address them. Or you can write me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy New Year! And happy writing!
The night will disappear in distant memory but your writing will remain indefinitely.