Monday, January 5, 2015

Generating Story Ideas

I am a long-time fan of Writing Excuses. In fact, that podcast deserves its own post, it's been that important to me.

To attempt a metaphor, it really has been the difference between running in an occasional 5k for fun or exercise versus being on the cross-country team with a coach making me do drills and train for better times at longer distances. That makes perfect sense to me, but it boils down to going from "wanting to be a writer" to actually getting the training and doing the hard work of learning how to write.

Starting in Season 10 of the now 8-year-old podcast (they're writers, not mathematicians), the 'casters begin running the show "like a master class in genre fiction," complete with homework assignments. I'm not one to pass up a free master class, especially if I can get it from writers that I admire and respect. So this is my effort at keeping up with the homework.

The homework assignment for Episode 1 and my completed answers are below. Feel free to steal these and become famous! I just ask that when you get published and make it big, you leave a comment below and tell me the name of your book so I can go buy it :)
Write down five different story ideas in 150 words or less. Generate these ideas from these five sources:
  1. From an interview or conversation you’ve had
  2. From research you’ve done (reading science news, military history, etc)
  3. From observation (go for a walk!)
  4. From a piece of media (watch a movie)
  5. From a piece of music (with or without lyrics)
Generating Story Ideas:
1. Brandon Sanderson talks about how he worked one or two rather inconsequential jobs while he practiced his writing and wrote like a dozen novels. His story goes on to him becoming a published and very successful author who quit working to write full-time. I think there's a story about a person who takes the small-time job and does the writing, even getting his books published and making some money at it, but never gets to the level that he "quits the day job." Twenty years later, he's a multiple-time published author with many fans (maybe not millions) who is still writing, but now he's twenty years into a lackluster career. He interviews for a job and the hiring manager says, "Look, you're not the most qualified guy for the job, but I really can't pass up the opportunity to be working with the author of "Taste of Glass" (or whatever his big book is called)."

2. I read an article about trans-human evolution--fascinating stuff postulating that man, as we now are, is not the culmination of the evolutionary ladder. Which would make sense if the supposed primordial ooze's ultimate destination was a Grey-like being with vast intellect and minuscule muscularity. But what if mankind was never God's intended apex species? Like the dinosaurs who "ruled the earth" while unevolved man was swinging in the trees, what if man is just the sitting ruler of a planet destined for something that is still on its evolutionary path?

3. It's not new, but I'm often fascinated with the idea that some of the little houses, shacks, cottages I see might just be the clever camouflage of a much larger, obviously clandestine, structure buried beneath the ground. With a network of surface structures serviced by long, rapidly moving, omni-directional elevators. Controlled by a rival government faction.

4. I watch no TV and few movies, but I read Scalzi's "Old Man's War" and, recognizing the heavy borrowing from Starship Troopers, imagined a new rewriting of the now-tropey "see the universe, blow it up" storyline. Facing the cliche overpopulation of Earth, now the recruits travel to the far reaches to colonize populate-able planets via a Star Gate/Teraport that is, surprise, actually a virtual matter translator. The humans are being decoded into virtual humans in a Matrix-style computer-simulation of the universe where they are led to "think" they are fighting aliens, but in truth, are merely experiencing a matter-compression process designed to free up space on the organism-sustaining hard drive that is planet earth.

5. A song I like right now but do not understand at all is About a Girl by The Academy Is... 
One song about a girlCan't breathe when I'm around herI wait here every dayIn case she'll scratch the surfaceShe'll never notice 
I'm not in loveThis is not my heartI'm not gonna waste these wordsAbout a girl
I have to assume that these lyrics refer to the singer's predicament of finding a beautiful girl trapped beneath the surface of the pond behind his house and are an effort to explain his dilemma of not being able to hold his breath for more than about 31 seconds, not to mention his inability to speak under water, wasting his breath trying to garble unintelligibly to the pond nymph in his backyard.

Oh, I just watched the music video here and realize that I was way off. Couldn't have been more wrong. I really though I had this one.

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