Sunday, November 30, 2008
Thoughts On Plot 5: Inspirado -- A Few Thoughts On Getting Ideas
Lunchbox had a good idea here and it made me think that it might be worthwhile talking about techniques for getting ideas. This isn't going to be an organized essay, more a bit of a ramble.
Let's start off by making the problem smaller. Just make up the title. Can't think of one? Try leafing through one of those encyclopedic movie guides and see which titles jump out at you, then study them and ask why. Pay attention to the rhythm of the word combinations, the percussion of hard consonants. Then start throwing together random words in the same pattern.
Then keep doing this until you come up with something you like. If you're lucky you'll have a knack for it and won't have to go through all of that rigamarole. Either way, start listening for phrases that sound as though they might make a good title. Maybe you run across them on the label or maybe they just drift through your mind -- but unless you're looking for them you won't spot them.
Then once you've got a title ask yourself what it tells you about the story. One story of mine started as the title Hate Her, Hate Her, Tribulator! Not only did I dig the schoolyard rhyme as B-movie vibe of it but it also gave me a solid start on the story itself. It asked three questions -- who is giving the command, who is the 'her' in question, and who or what is a Tribulator? And bam, there was enough to start me writing.
Earlier on in these essays I mentioned using stories from mythology and folklore. Add everything else to that list. Songs, Shakespeare, movies, everything. Just make sure you use them as seeds, that what comes out is something unique. Otherwise what's the point?
Let me be more specific -- look for shapes and forms and principles, not specifics. You see Othello and the character Iago sticks in your mind. You read The Lord of the Rings and Grima Wormtongue reminds you of Iago and you think to yourself, "Hmm, maybe I could use an evil councillor somewhere." The name and nature and deeds of the character in question will be original but the seed they grew from is an old one.
I think the essense of what I've been saying is that the process of getting ideas is a two-stage game. Find something that catches your interest and then ask yourself questions about it.
What catches your interest? What draws your eye? What irritates you? That's a key one -- you'll get more and better stories out of the things that displease you than the things that do (unless you are one of the rare gifted few that can write pleasingly of happy times -- but I'm going to claim that I heard they're all miserable fucks). What angers, saddens, frightens you?
Anything in the news that got to you? Any spam? Did you see something that made you laugh or cringe? Get in the habit of noticing why you notice things.
Then ask yourself questions. What would my character do in that situation? What kind of person would own that sofa? Who makes a living doing that all day? Why would someone do that?
If you keep this up you'll start to notice that some ideas will stick together and eventually, with luck, they bond into a story. And that's probably everything productive I've got to say on the subject of plotting. Like I said, I ain't that good at it but I do have a few tools that let me get by.