Let me explain. You see, I got home yesterday, Friday, and thought I would take a really quick nap. I was tired. Sue me.
But then I slept for sixteen hours, so I didn’t post. Oops. I’m really a mess this week.
So today you will get two posts!
Today I want to talk about forming ideas. Maybe you want to write, but don’t know what to write about. Maybe you know what you want to write about, but don’t really know how the whole story goes. Maybe you have a seed for an idea, like a photo, song, line, or character, but don’t know what it should lead to. Or maybe you have an entire story figured out, but it’s all vague, with a lot of question marks in the middle.
This is kind of a… silly method of forming ideas. But it works. Really, it does, so just give it a try. I do this every time I go to start a story, before outlining and drafting and everything else. Just… keep an open mind.
Here’s the theory behind it: as we grow up, we stop wondering about the things around us because we know the answers. We don’t wonder what is on the other side of the fence because we know it’s just grass. Not a secret passage to somewhere magical. We stop wondering what is inside the ground we walk on because we know it is just rock. Not a whole underground city of people who don’t know that we are up here, looking down.
When we were kids, and we didn’t have all of the answers, it was easier to come up with stories to explain things. It was easier to imagine things that don’t exist. And that’s what fiction is, right? Writing stories about things that don’t exist. One reason that these ideas might not be flowing is because you are stuck in an adult mind, where everything has an answer and we don’t need to come up with these stories. Block that off. Get into the mindset of not knowing how everything works.
There’s some psychology behind this too, which I’ll explain at the end.
So here’s what you do. Get some lined paper and staple it together. Have a page for everything in the plot diagram: Exposition, conflict, three rising actions, climax, falling actions, resolution. Have a few extra pages if you want, for transitions. For characters. For backstories.
This is where you need to get into that open-minded kid-like mindset. Think about the little seed you have. And if you don’t have a seed, then find one. Go on the internet or look at the world around you. Find something that interests you, like a fact, a picture, a place, a person. From that you can find a seed, something that can be explained, or something that can be thrown into a story.
Go to the part of this little story booklet you’ve made that this seed fits into. Maybe you have an image in your head of something that is in the story. Maybe you know how it begins. Maybe you know how it ends. Find the page that it should go on, and this is where you have a few options.
Find a way to express this part of the story. This isn’t the writing part, yet, so your idea may not be in words. It could still be in disconnected pieces. Maybe write a couple sentences about what you know already. Maybe draw a picture of your character. Bust out those crayons. Maybe print out and paste in the picture. Write in a definition. A newspaper article. A fact. Song lyrics. Poetry lines. draw the setting. Draw and important object.
But do not just write out the whole thing. I’ll explain why in a minute.
Then start to fill in the blanks. For the exposition, where does this begin at, or who are the characters? For the conflict, what changes to move the story along, and who is involved? For the rising actions, what can get in the way of the character, and how might they over come it? Maybe this is part of where the antagonist will come in. For the climax, where is this all headed, and how is this more intense than the rest of the story? How is this important to the conflict? For the falling actions, what comes from the climax? What is the fallout? The consequences? And finally, for the resolution, how does it come together?
Maybe even have a page for the theme, if you think you might know it already.
And this doesn’t just have to be for the plot diagram. This can be used for the steps of the Hero’s Journey Archetype, or other archetypes that you might want to follow. Just have it organized in some way, with all of the ingredients that make up a story.
You might not know how to fill it up at first. And if you are having a problem, find another seed. It might or might not go along with the one you already have. Maybe you have an image in your head for how the story ends, and maybe you get a seed for a character. Find other seeds and then fill in the blanks from there.
At the end you should get something that kind of looks like the disorganized ramblings of a kid, what with the drawings and scraps of the story that don’t really make sense. The point is that you actually have a formulated idea, whereas before you only had a seed. But after you get all of your pieces down onto paper, you can start outlining. You can start connecting things a little better. Maybe you need to do a few of the booklets before you find the direction you want to take your story to go.
And why does this work? Here’s where psychology comes in. There are two sides of our brains. The left side is logical, scientific, and controls language. The right side is more emotional and creative and visual. We are writers, so we tell stories with our left brain, with language. The fact checking and research and everything that comes along with the story telling is left brain too, the logic and science of everything.
But to come up with the story, a really good story, we need to tap into the magic of our right brain. We need that creativity, that sense of emotion and imagery that should be present in our stories. If you write out all of the ideas you have, then you are just letting your left brain control. Language, remember? By coming up with these ideas through pictures and drawings and even music or poetry, we are getting that right brain to control. Like when we are young and draw the things we see, but not exactly how they are. We are letting our right brain get some exercise, and being more creative.
Then, we can outline with our left brain and start the writing side of things.
so my challenge for you is to give this a try. Even if you re in the middle of your first draft, make a booklet. Even if you know what is going to happen next. It might help you get that image in your head. You might notice that you have a plot hole.
I didn’t do this with my current novel, which was a huge mistake, because I had a hole to fill in my rising actions. And I filled it with something unbearably cliche, so it’s a lot more work than I planned to go back and fix it.
Things like that are preventable, so give it a try.
And if this isn’t for you, if you don’t like this method, then you don’t have to do it. If you have your own method, by all means do that. Try it out, but if you have something that already works, then keep going. And if you are in the editing stage like me, then just keep this method in your back pocket for later.
If you are like me, and randomly get good ideas at the most inconvenient times, then this might be helpful. Instead of dropping the novel that you are already writing, make a little booklet like this. That way, when you feel like coming back to it, you might even interpret it in a different way than before, a better way.
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Thank you for reading, and don’t stop writing!
*The link from which the plot diagram photo was found is here: http://www.portnet.k12.ny.us/Page/10210 . I don’t own any rights to this photo so I’m giving this website the credit, but you should check out that site for more things like it that can help with writing:)