Occasionally, just occasionally, people ask me where I get my ideas from. And it is the clichéd response of any writer or creative person to roll their eyes at this and purse their lips and go pffffft! What a question to ask! But I do find myself legitimately puzzled by this– where do you get your ideas from? It’s the from part that troubles me– I don’t go out and look for ideas; it is not an active pursuit. I’d be surprised if it was for anyone. Ideas turn up, on their own good time. Where do my ideas come from– now that’s closer to the mark, but still that’s not a question I can answer, not satisfactorily anyway– cue rolling eyes and pfffft! I get the bulk of my ideas either on the bus or in the shower or just when I’m about to fall asleep. And ideas in and of themselves are not hard to come by, I’ve always considered myself an ideas person — left to my own devices I can stave off boredom readily enough by inventing scenarios and doing silly voices out loud, and maybe rocking back and forth a bit. No problem there.
The tough part for me is turning an idea– often a silly idea, often a silly idea that is no more than a single sentence– turning that into a story with characters, drama, plot, making it something that you not only want to read, but something that will stick with you for the hours or days after reading, well that can be quite difficult. Like I mentioned elsewhere I have a fondness for stories that are silly in synopsis but harrowing in detail– actually I love this– it is the same story but told one way it is Comedy, told another it is Horror. This creates an abiding tension in the reader’s mind, keeps them guessing, and it allows me to be playful and flippant and horrible and pathetic, often in the same sentence!
Horror and Comedy really are the same thing; it’s just how much you know!
Anyway, the aim of the next few blogs is to chart the process of turning an Idea into a finished story. I have quite literally just finished story No. 65 She Kicks Amongst the Cabbages and as always, the best time to start a new story is when you have just finished one! So onwards now to No. 66.
I have a folder on my desktop titled ‘Ideas’. Whenever one of these sparkling little cherubs shits on my cheek I open a new word document and title it according to the idea. Often this title is the only extant part of this proto-story. It then percolates for a bit at the back of my mind until I am ready to deal with it. Rarely am I more than two ideas ahead of the story I am currently working on.
And what is the title I have chosen for No. 66?
THE SHITTING PRINCESS
(I must admit, I like it when swear words are in the titles of things. It is Dangerous. Thus, I become Dangerous. But it is Childish when other authors do it. Childish! Pffft!)
So I begin by thinking how I turn something stupid like ‘The Shitting Princess’ into a full story with character and plot and drama and plot twists and things like that. I ask myself:
Why is she shitting? There must be a purpose to it, otherwise why would it be a thing to write about? So her shitting is necessary. Why? Because it contains information, or indicates something. It is a Sign. A sign of what? I have already used a tree that answers questions and other oracles in a similar vein, so I have to think hard. Finally I decide that you can tell the weather by looking at the colour, shape and consistency of the shits (and instantly a scene pops into my head of a man, gravely prodding a turd with the blunt end of a biro — could this be a starting point for the story?) And since I love to write about the Wrong Things a community might do, it makes sense to me that the Shitting would be a public spectacle, justifying the Princess part of the title, as they probably dress her up and make her all gaudy, and they probably take their smiling children along to see the Shitting (and another scene: a child asking his father ‘Are we going to see the Shitting?’ Notice the capital S, denoting a ceremony. Community=Horror.) Furthermore, it is probably in a public space too, so I decide to put it on a roundabout, a high commode, covered in tinsel and with fluttery banners waving in the breeze.
For a start that’s grand. I quite like it. Images are forming in my head of an emaciated girl forced to shit every weekend by a trio of men who then test her shit to see what the weather will be like for the week ahead. They have a crown for her. Oh God, they have a little tarnished crown for her. Oh no, is she a little… simple? I don’t know, I’ll have to wait and see how it feels when I sit down to write it.
And as far as I can see there are three stories I can write from here — A) a child is taken to see the Shitting as a Fun Day Out. B) someone interferes with the Shitting for their own personal gain. C) the Shitting Princess breaks from her bondage and lives happily ever after. I can immediately discount story C. Who wants to read stories about triumph and overcoming odds? Not me.
So it’s a toss-up between A and B.
A is easier, but it is too close to other stories I have written. B, then, but it will require further elaboration, a proper plot with Beginning, Middle and End. Why would you want to make people think the weather will be different to the prediction? But that’s enough to be going on with, I think. I’ll sleep on it. Tomorrow I will sit down and write the first five hundred words or so, and see what comes out. I’ll come back and report on what happened!
Until then, take care of yourself,
The Process Part 2 — Exploration
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