Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Writing Lesson 1: The Idea

I thought this might be a good place to do something I've thought about doing for some time: teach how to write a story.  There's a lot that goes into doing it that doesn't always come naturally to a person. There are other parts I think you continue to learn or fine tune throughout your life.

So with that in mind, here is lesson 1: The Idea

This you would think would be automatic. I have an idea, now what?  Well, I think you need to coax ideas, play with them. In many ways they're the best part of writing. I want to write a story about a boy who can fly. Great! Now play with the concept. Has he always been able to fly? When did he find out he could fly? Does he use wings? Does he fly in some other way? What is going to happen to him? What is the conflict? What does he do with the ability to fly? How can I turn this into a premise?

A premise is term I use to mean a basic outline of a story. It isn't a complete outline, it is more the idea with a bit of a conflict and perhaps even a conclusion, but not much else.  Using the example above I would say if you started with the idea of a boy who could fly, your premise would be what if there was a boy who could fly who escaped from a secret laboratory and is being chased by his creators who want to exploit him? or kill him?  That's the difference. A premise is an idea with a direction.

Now, you may look at the idea above and say, "Fine, but come on, a boy who can fly? The idea has been done a hundred times, there are even movies that have done it."  True, but it doesn't necessarily make it a bad story idea. I'm not sure there are really any new ideas out there. If you have an idea you can be certain someone else has thought of it, written about it and made a lot of money off of it. What makes it worth writing about is how you change the idea. Your unique wrinkle will make an idea into an excellent premise from which to make a book.

Look at vampires. They are the most overused idea in the world  right now. Usually when the idea of writing a vampire story occurs to me I tell myself no - no way! It has been done into the ground.  Then I think of how I could do it differently.  What if I wrote a story about a vampire who is blind?  Or what if the vampire catches a disease from those he feeds on? What if he has AIDS because of someone he's bitten? What if he enjoys surfing?  Anyway, you get the idea. There are ways to mess around with your intial idea so that it becomes a fresh new premise for a book. (By the way I did just recently write a short story about a vampire trying to date for the first time.)

This is all fine when an idea occurs to you out of no where, but what about when there is an assignment, or a contest you're interested in and you need a new and creative idea now?  How do you get it to appear in your head? Easy, play the little game I call, "What if...?"  What if vampires fought aliens who invaded the earth? The vampires end up saving the planet because the alien's weapons won't kill them and they don't know to use wooden stakes? (Now I'm mixing ideas, vampires and aliens, but that's okay too).

I had an assignment and decided I wanted to write a short story about a genie. Well, once again, what could I do that hadn't been done a hundred times?  Well, what if the person who rubs the lamp can't see the genie because he's blind? And let's make it more interesting than that, what if he's also deaf, so he can't hear the genie? He doesn't even know he's released a genie from a lamp because the genie can't tell him, or show him.  Now we have an interesting idea.  The premise would be, what does the genie do? Does he grant the kid a wish or sneak off? If he grants the wish, would it be to restore his senses, or is that what the kid would really wish for?.....and we're off.

That concludes the first lesson.  Lesson 2: Setting will be the next blog entry. Possibly tomorrow.

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