Thursday, October 14, 2010

Brainstorming and Ideas

I have decided to take part in NaNoWriMo. For those who don't know what it is, it's a... competition of sorts. You sign up to it on the website, and the challenge is to write 50,000 words in a month. If you manage to do that, you "win". You also get to see the word counts of your friends and your region, so it adds a competitive edge to writing a novel. For me, competitive edge = motivation.

This is also useful, as it has recently dawned on me that I will be very busy next year. We're talking a lot of study, to the extent where I'm dreaming about chemistry and anatomy in my sleep. But I still wish to have a balanced life, so I came to the conclusion that I want to do several things around my course: earn money in order to live, study languages ( at least Japanese) and some form of exercise and writing.

That's a lot of stuff to fit around a long week. But it has recently come to my awareness that I revise better than I write. It's easier for me, it doesn't take as much time up, and you can work on it in spurts and drabs. Writing, on the other hand, I have to do in blocks.

So if I can pull off a book in a month, I will resolve myself to write a book every summer holidays (December/January) and spend the rest of the year revising.

So I thought as I wrote this novel over November, I would go through my process of doing things. (Everyone is different, this is just how I do it)

Anyway. Back on topic. Brainstorming.

This, for me, is the process of coming up with ideas, and figuring out all the cool stuff you can do with that idea. The first time I ever wrote something, I didn't brainstorm - I got an idea, and sat down and wrote. It turned out nicely original, but I had to put it through five drafts to get it close to something readable.

That first/second draft was in essence my brainstorm. I would not recommend it if you have a lack of time.

These are the methods which I use for both getting an idea, and brainstorming it into something resembling a story. There will be others, but this is what have used so far.
  • What if : Basically, you ask what if? What if the sun exploded? What if the world stopped turning? What if dogs could talk? What if someone discovered they had superhuman powers? What if my dad turned into an angel/demon/fairy?
After you have your "what if", the main ways to turn it into something memorable are to think about the implications of the "what if", and the reasons behind the "what if". Something also important is the "but". If the sun exploded, the world would be incinerated. But... But someone survives. How? Why did the sun explode? Was there someone that made it explode? What are the effects on the survivors? What if among the survivors were scientist and a priest. How would they all react? Would their reactions be in conflict with each other?

The moment you start putting characters into a "what if" situation, things get interesting, because characters will react to the "what if". How they react, and what they do next will drive your story forwards.

  • Character Idea
Sometimes, a character will walk into your head with a specific voice, and annonce things about themselves. If that stuff is interesting enough, it's entirely possible a story will come out of it. Recently, for me it was: A boy is trapped in the library. He can't get out, and is forced to write other peoples stories down.

And then you start with the questions: Why? Who put him there? How does he react? Are his parents looking for him? What sort of person is he? Does he believe in something? Does he even want to leave? (Maybe he came from a abusive family?)

Another good example is Harry Potter. Apparently (and this is just from my remembering) J.K Rowling was sitting in a train at King Cross station when Harry Potter wandered into her head. Not the whole book - just one character. A boy wizard, without parents, who lived with terrible relatives. She built an entire world around the implications of a boy wizard (would he go to school? Where? Would wizards be hidden, or part of society ect.) and a story around the implications of him being an orphan (why is he an orphan?)

  • Setting. Sometimes this comes first. It could be anywhere: past, present of future.
If you start with setting, the first thing you have to think about is who would live there, and how they are effected by their surrounds. The easiest way to get a story from this is to find a character that doesn't quite fit.

We're in China. We've got a young Chinese boy, everything about him is Chinese - culture, language, ect. What's different? His mother is/was Japanese. Japan and China have a huge century long feud going on between them. Depending on what time this is set, it would have implications for this character, and how others react to him. You put him in conflict (maybe he's proud of his heritage and argues against someone who says something ill about Japan?) and you have a story.

My intrinsic belief is that story comes from character. You can have as much plot as you want. Some people think up a plot first, and then think up a character to fit the plot. That is fine. But you cannot have a story without a motivated character in conflict with something. Even if it's his inner conscience. Even if it's with the door, and struggling to get it open. Even if a huge dragon's just landed on the lawn. Story comes from how the character reacts.

Whether plot comes first and you make a character to fit that, or character comes first and you put them in an interesting situation to see what happens is up to who you are personally as a writer.

If anyone needs anything clarified/wants to debate/ect. - post a comment. This is only my opinion/experience, and I am more than willing to be called out on it.



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