I don’t just want an idea, I want it to travel. How do I make my ideas go somewhere?
Jump around: Take an imagined event or character and think about what else could happen and who might be involved and write it down. Don’t worry about having to make a whole story. Create fragments of story. If the bits seem disconnected or out of place, don’t fret over them. Start creating another piece. After a while, stop and look at what you have written. See whether it suggests a storyline but don’t force it.
Expand on fragments: Don’t expect your idea to sound like a story for a while yet. You are just feeling your way at the moment, amassing the pieces from your imagination and writing them down in the order they come to you.Like this:
‘It was snowing. There was something going on with Rachel. It didn’t feel as if we were friends anymore. We seemed to be speaking to each other in a different way. We were using my car.’
Now, start to ask questions. Where are the two characters going? Is the car important? Why did they use that car? Will there be something wrong with it? What has caused the tension between them? Expand on what you imagine.
Ask Questions: This is a useful tip from Naomi Epel’s ‘The Observation Deck’. She suggests making a pile of cards and writing a question on each of them. Examples are: What If? Why not? When? How? What happened? Why? What could happen next? What changed? What did that cause? and What’s needed? She suggests pulling them out at random to give you further insight into your idea. Dig deeper. Ask What else? What else could be going on?
What if?: ‘What If: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers’ by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter is a whole book of exercises that has sprung from asking just one of these questions and will help you find not only the start but the momentum that you need for your story. They suggest that you ask ‘What If?’ and find five ways of continuing your story. Then choose the way that feels right and carry on. Repeat the question and the action as often as you need to.
Cluster: – I mentioned this briefly under ‘Start A Box’ in my earlier, Portable Soup, post. It is a fail safe way of getting an idea and growing it. I resisted the method for some time because it is random and nonlinear; something I wasn’t used to. Now I can’t recommend it enough. It is not unlike mind mapping but mind mapping is more cerebral whereas clustering calls on image and emotion.
In her book, ‘Writing the Natural Way’ by Gabriele Rico, she describes clustering (as well as other right brained methods to aid writing) at length, but I can only touch on it briefly here. It is a non- linear brainstorming method that taps into your subconscious and generates useable material within a very short time. It causes you to make associations and find patterns, which in turn reveals choices and a focus for your writing, even when you don’t know where you are going with your idea; even if you can’t find satisfying answers to questions like the ones above. And it’s fun.
This is how it works:
You choose a word and circle it, ‘Jealousy’ for example. Then you free associate for several minutes by writing down related words all around the circle – it might be a person, a memory, an image from childhood, anything sparked off by this initial word (You can cluster words personal to you or elements of story, like a character or a scene). In effect you are grouping ideas that spread outwards from one central idea and from this a whole picture begins to emerge. As you cluster, you will sense a tug towards one of these words or images, “an urge to write” and at this point you write for ten minutes. It is the collaboration between the clustering and the writing, between right and left brain that reveals meaning. Give it a try.
Merge two Ideas: Mix and match the ideas that you have, to see if any work together. This will give you more material and more choices to work with.
Next post: ‘In a Fankle’ – I’ve started writing but now I’m stuck. How do I move on?