Friday, August 3, 2012

Another Way to "Find" Stories

Here's a fairly common problem. You're in the mood to write a story, but you have no idea what to write -- no idea where to start and, if you do manage to find a starting place, no idea where to go with it.

Sometimes I have trouble too. I'm always looking for new ways to help me get a story started. After all, once you get something on paper, you've got "clay" you can form into something good. The trick is finding that clay.

Here's one of the methods I use to help me get past that blank page.

You probably have something in mind, whether it seems promising or not. Maybe you like to write a certain kind of story, or you saw a movie that gave you an idea, or whatever. It doesn't have to be earthshaking.

In an earlier post I talked about a basic plot framework. Essentially I said you take a situation and look for a decision that has to be made; that decision changes the character's day, and your story is about how the change worked out. That works great when I already have an idea to start with.

If I don't have a clear idea when I start, I turn it into a game. I start with a plain old boring plot idea that's been used a million times. Then I try to mess it up in a crazy way.

A classic example is Harry the Dirty Dog. Harry doesn't want to take a bath so he runs away and gets dirty while he plays. Let's face it, that's not such a fascinating plot, is it? But author Gene Zion turned it into something new by playing with it. When Harry comes home, his owners will give him a bath anyway -- so Zion asked how he could disrupt the normal process. His answer was to let Harry get so dirty that his owners wouldn't recognize him! And if you read the story, that's the real crisis at its heart -- how will Harry get his owners to recognize him?

The cool part is that Harry is desperate to solve this problem, even though that will result in him getting a bath. In the end, Harry is so relieved to be home that he doesn't really care that he had to take a bath!

That's the game. Ask yourself how your plot would normally work out, then figure out what kind of things will keep it from working out so smoothly. Be aware that the best answers to this game will provide a new problem -- Oh my gosh, how can I figure out a way to solve this? The answer probably won't be so easy for you to figure out, let alone your characters!

But now you'll have an interesting story idea to work with. Play this game often, and you'll soon have a list of story plots to write when you aren't particularly "inspired."

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