Friday, November 9, 2012

A Use for the Useless

Today's plot sparker is a simple concept that you've probably heard people joke about from time to time. The quickest way to explain it is probably this movie clip.

Before there were movies like Dumb and Dumber there was Airplane. Airplane was fun because it took so many "serious" actors -- like Lloyd Bridges, Leslie Nielson (yes, he used to do serious stuff), and Robert Stack -- and put them in a comedy. The bit I'd like to call your attention to happens around the :20 second mark in this collection of clips from the movie, starring the childlike Jonny and a newspaper:

"Jonny, what do you make out of this?" Bridges asks, and Jonny replies, "This? Well, I could make a cap, or a broach, or a pterodactyl..."

I call this sparker "uses for the useless" because it reminds me of Jonny's useless suggestions. A pterodactyl? Why would you even try?

But suppose your character came across something useless but she was so captivated by it that she decided to do something with it. That could make a good story, especially if that "something" was completely useless and the use your character came up with was somewhat bizarre.

Jonny's suggestions for the newspaper don't sound very promising, do they? A cap, a broach... wait, did he say a pterodactyl??? Oh, I'm seeing a story idea already! Don't you? No? You can't figure out how you get a story out of pterodactyls and newspapers? Well, I'll give you this one for free, just so you get the idea...

Suppose little Jonny decided to enter a science fair and, being a dinosaur geek (maybe like Dinosaur Dan on Nick Jr.) he decides to create a dinosaur model. But not just any dinosaur -- a pterodactyl. And not some little dinky model -- oh no, not our Jonny! He decides to build a lifesize model. According to Wikipedia:
"Pterodactylus was a relatively small pterosaur, with an estimated adult wingspan of about 1.5 meters (5 ft) in P. antiquus."
A five-foot wingspan! Where is he going to get the materials to... oh, wait a minute. How about newspaper? A pterodactyl built from paper-mache and wire and whatever else he can get hold of! But imagine the problems involved -- not just building it, but transporting it to the science fair. And what if that little bugger could actually fly if the wind caught it?

Of course, the wind would have to catch it in your story, wouldn't it? I can imagine the bedlam when folks in a small town suddenly start seeing a pterodactyl gliding overhead...

The world is full of useless objects that people throw away. Some of them, like old newspapers, lend themselves to inventive stories. And if your character finds something really unusual... well, who knows what kind of story you might create?

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