More about story ideas

I was at a NaNoWriMo write-in last Monday (this is when several nutty people get together for multiple hours and sit with laptops pounding out chunks of their novels – the idea being that having others around you working helps make you more productive) and had an interesting experience.  The write-in was at the loft of the Flying Pig Bookstore here in Vermont.  We had a few people there, working away, and suddenly heard strange, tinny voices from the hallway.  Elizabeth, the bookstore’s owner, explained that was a water-machine that belonged to the health spa also working in the building.  Then the woman getting herself water, who overheard us talking, came in and gave further explanation, talking about the importance of water being alkaline, ionized, and all this other stuff.  I’d actually gotten the “happy water” lecture once before, so I confess to having tuned some of it out.  You can see an example of the sort of machine involved here – but warning, auto-play videos on the page, not really work safe.

(Please do not take this as an endorsement of the product.  I’m an RN.  I’ve had more classes, recently, on human biology and microbiology than most people get in a lifetime.  There is ZERO scientific evidence to support the claims that this water is better for you or healthier.  Luckily, it’s probably not any more harmful than regular water, either, and most of the machines seem to do about as good a job as a Brita style filter in taking out particulates.)

Anyway, my mind was in story mode.  And because of that, as she finished her talk, I blurted out: “Hey, what if someone wanted to build a healthier sports drink or water, and bottled nanites into their drink to make it work?  The FDA doesn’t check for nanites.  No one would ever know.  And then, what if something went wrong…?”

Everyone in the room thought that was an awesome idea for a story, except the health-spa-water-lady, who I think was a little offended and left.  I hope I didn’t hurt her feelings; I owe her one.  Once my current novel is done, that’s for sure going to be a short story.

The other day I posted about those eTombs, because I thought they were cool.  Not sure why, besides that – until this morning, when I woke up with a really cool short fiction idea focused around an eTomb.  Seems like my subconscious was trying to say something ever since I saw the original post.

My other short story idea in the last two weeks was from a random story generator.  I forget which one; I was trolling a bunch of them someone linked to from the NaNoWriMo forums.  This was one of those sites where you click a dropdown for 1, 5, 10, 15, or 20 story ideas, and it generates the number you want.  Stuff like “lost son meets ancient enemy”, “twins wage war on spotted turtles”.  Three elements per idea – character / something happens / character.  So I saw this one that said wise beggar outwits dragon.  My mind just latched onto it, and about ten minutes later, I had an outstanding idea for a long short or short novella.

Three short story ideas in the last two weeks.  And the pace seems to be picking up.  I’ve been telling my brain to work on short stories for about a month now, because I wanted to write some shorts after November was over, hadn’t written any in a long time, and didn’t have any ideas shorter than a short novel length.  The wait was a little frustrating, but the mind is a curious thing.  Keep it focused on a task for long enough, and it just starts producing.

Now, I have a feeling that so long as I keep thinking “give me more short stories” my subconscious will continue to link things I see together into ideas.

What an amazing feeling!

Not that I’m ignoring novels, mind you, but I have something of a backlog of novel ideas in my little notebook already.  And, I have a feeling there is a new one building back there already, not quite connected together yet.  Something epic romantic fantasy, maybe.  I guess I’ll see when it’s ready to arrive.  I think the point is, don’t fret about ideas.  Ideas happen.  They’re all around us.  They’re a matter of asking – if this was so, then what if?  Or, if this happened, what happens next?  The world breathes ideas for stories at us every day, but it’s up to us to choose to soak those in, instead of deflecting them as useless data.

Tell your mind you want to make stories.  And then listen.  The stories will come.

The Little Black Book (Story Ideas for Writers)

No, not THAT little black book – my wife would kill me if I had one of those!

I’m talking about a writer’s idea journal.  The place to story novel ideas for later use.  Mine is a little 4×6 inch spiral bound notebook from Staples.  With a black cover, so it’s a little black book.  Its small enough to fit in my pocket and haul around with me, although it lives on a shelf next to my computer much of the time.  It’s where I store novel ideas when they come to me.  Even if it’s just a one sentence blurb that flashed into my head, I jot it down so that I can add to it later.

Often, I’ll re-read the notes there on each idea.  That gets my mind working on them; might as well have that subconscious doing something useful, right?  And sometimes as I do a read, I’ll think of some other notion to add to one of the ideas.  Each one gets a single page, front and back.  There’s a lot of blank room on some, and not so much on others.

One thing a lot of people ask me about writing is “where do you get ideas?”  There’s books about generating story ideas, with tricks you can use to get your creative juices going.  The best tool I have found for my own work is the little black idea book.  When I get an idea, even a rough one, I write it down.  Here’s an example I added just the other day:

SF, present or near future.  Want to write something “Stargate-like” (but fresh) with exploration/adventure.  Serial/series of novel/novellas – focus on uplifting nature, positives of humanity (as opposed to negatives).  Need hook and mechanism for exploring.

That’s the result of watching the last few episodes of Stargate: Universe Season 1, and the first episode of Season 2.  I chatted with my wife about my issue with the show, for a bit.  To me, it feels more like Battlestar Galactica (the new version) than it does like Stargate.  That’s not a compliment, either.  Stargate, Stargate: Atlantis, heck even Star Trek or the *original* Battlestar series all had one thing in common: they focused on how at our core human beings are basically good.  Anne Frank said it best: “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are good at heart.”  And these shows put humans through the twister, but show them still holding to their ideals.  Sure, there are exceptions – but the heroes of the show are the ones who stay true.

But we’re seeing modern shows like the new Galactica series, the Universe series, and others that don’t really have heroes.  They have a cast of deeply flawed human beings who crack, fail, and fall apart at the first opportunity.  It’s like the writers delight in reminding us that humanity is frail, weak willed, and immoral or amoral at our core.  I don’t believe that; I have a hard time watching it in fiction, and would find it impossible to write.  My reaction is so strong that I *know* there is a good book or books in there for me.  Because what I feel is Truth (to me), I know I can write it well.

That story may sit there another year or more while my subconscious percolates how best to write it, before it’s written.  That’s OK though, because there are more than twenty other story ideas jotted down there waiting to be written, and that’s not including the one I already yanked for the novel I’ll be starting in November.  Here’s another, a little bit more fleshed out (but not much):

Science fiction.  New x-prize: race around the moon.  Young person (protag) enters.  The adventure is about the race (think book “Rocket Jockey”).  Light tone, adventure/thriller, hero vs deadly environment and other racers, some of whom are less than honorable.

I read a book called “Rocket Jockey” when I was a kid, about a race around the solar system.  It was sort of an Iditarod in space, as I recall it, and the heroes went through a series of dangers as they zipped around.  Fun, light adventure book.  I had been reading about the x-prize race, and the new one for a race to get an private unmanned probe to the moon, and thought ahead just a few steps – what’s next?  What about a manned probe?  Then what?  What about a race?  And the idea was born in a flash.  It’s still not a full novel.  It needs a lot of poking before it will become something ready to pour onto a page.  But it’s the germ of an idea, and as I go along I’ll add notes.  I have two idea pages that are almost completely full, front and back, and I’ve started jotting in the margins of a third.

So story ideas are never a problem for me, never going to be a problem for me so long as I continue working to take notes from my subconscious when it deigns to spit stuff out at me.  Here’s the thing, though.  You never know when it’ll happen.  You never know what you might see, or hear, or smell, or talk about, that might click together the pieces of a new novel.  And if you don’t have something to jot it down with, you’re liable to forget the idea.  It only arrives for a moment – that brief flash when your conscious and subconscious are chatting on the same wavelength.  And then it’s gone, unless you’ve made a written record.  When I read that note above, I not only remember the story idea, I remember what I was feeling about the story idea when I wrote the note.  That’s important for me, because my ability to write seventy five thousand words on a topic is inextricably linked to how much I care about that subject.

Try it out.  You might like it.  You might find something entirely different that works well.  But if you want to write, and want to be able to generate ideas for new stories, you need to find a way to remember those flashes of connection that we call inspiration – to save them somehow, for later when you’re ready to put pen to paper and create fiction around the flash.