Friday, February 26, 2016

Beginning Your Story: Chasing the Spark

Once you have that spark, you'll need to gather up all the toys (story ideas) that you want to play with. There are probably many methods of mining the subconscious, here are a few that have worked for me.


What is it about the spark the most fascinates you? Does it evoke a particular emotion? Does it promise interesting conflict? Does it explore an interesting point of view?

  1. Write it down in the middle of a blank piece of paper and circle it.
  2. Giving yourself only a few seconds, without thinking, quickly write every idea—no matter what—the first idea provokes.
  3. Afterward, review the results, and draw lines connecting these new ideas to your first idea.
  4. Select the most interesting of the new ideas, circle it and repeat the process.
  5. Continue until you fill the page, run out of ideas or feel that you've got enough ideas to work with.
  6. Finally, look over the results. Which ideas repeat? Which stand out as most interesting or important? Which seem to group together? Which seem to contradict or oppose other ideas?

You may find ideas for characters, conflicts, settings, even snatches of dialog, forming early in the process. Write them down and keep mapping. You may only need to do this process once or you might want to do this several times over several days, each time focusing on different core ideas which the first map produced. When you find all the elements you need to form The Sentence you know you are nearly there.


Close your eyes and imagine your story is finished. You're holding it in your hands. It is exactly the type of story you'd hoped it would be and, fortunately, brilliant reviewers think the exact same thing. (That's why they're brilliant.) Write a review of the finished story. (Which you haven't started yet.) Feel free to describe it as the best, most amazing, most profound work of fiction ever written, but describe why it is. Describe the characters, the themes, the plot, the setting, etc. Describe how it feels to read it. Describe why others should read it. Describe how and why it will change your readers' lives and what they will get out of it. Once you've calmed down, go back and look at it, underlining the ideas you want in your story.


I don't spend a lot of time on Pinterest. In fact I wouldn't have created an account there at all if I hadn't stumbled across some Pinterest boards while doing image searches for a book set in Japan. I tend to use it primarily when researching settings and then after the plot is well established. But there is a long tradition of writers cutting out pictures of people who resemble characters and places to be used as settings. If you are more visually oriented, try starting the creation process by seeking out and collecting images which evoke the feelings and ideas you want your story to convey.

Whichever method(s) you use, before long, you should find yourself with a bunch of fragments that need to be drawn together into a story. (Assuming the story hasn't already assembled itself.)

Next time – Beginning Your Story: Setting the Fire

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