Monday, August 2, 2010

What Exactly Is a Story Idea?

Tip of the Day: Having trouble coping with life's difficult questions? Try the web comic Basic Instructions.

I'm back from a long vacation touring North Carolina and Virginia. Vacations get me thinking in different ways and I'm always on the alert for a good story element. This year I became interested in hawks.

That's a picture of a judge in North Carolina who brings his hawk to court with him. North Carolina is really into hawks. It's hard to name a predator with such a strange relationship with humans. Now, my daughter has been bugging me to write a book about animals, but all the good ones are taken. There are a million books about dogs, cats, wolves, bears, dolphins, and owls. (Trust me, she's read them all.) But maybe not so many books about hawks, am I right?

The trouble is, I don't have a story idea. I have, I don't know, an interest.

So what is a story idea? Is it a plot, or is it a character with a goal and a problem? Can you rattle off a good story idea in ten words or less? If so, why don't the ideas come to us that quickly?

I go through this long process where I come up with characters and settings and challenges, and eventually, months and chapters later, I can distill this mishmash into a sentence. This is totally backwards. I should be able to come up with the sentence first!

Not that I haven't tried to formulate the sentence first. It just never survives the first few chapters.

But I think one day, it will happen to me. I'll be driving or folding laundry and presto! The perfect storyline will pop into my head, just like that. All these years of experience will have brought me to that point. And it might have hawks in it. And I will do an outline and (here's the key part) the story idea will be so good that I will stick to the outline!

Sigh. Vacations are all about daydreaming.

-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages


Izzy G. said...

Have you tried freewriting? It's so helpful for me! I usually come up with a character (not a very developed one, just a quick sketch) and some phrase that interests me (there are some great ones to be found on PostSecret or book title generators), and then I freewrite an hour a day for a while. Most of what I come up with is junk, but there are enough gems to be found in my chunky blocks of text for it to be worth it!

Kate Fall said...

That's a great idea, you know. I have to stop trying to produce X number of pages and outlines and get the other side of my brain working.

DeenaML said...

OK, wait, that NC dude really brings a freakin HAWK with him? HA!