Writing Tip Tuesday: Pay Attention

At every writers conference, workshop, or author presentation I've ever been to, when the floor is opened for questions to authors, one of them invariably is, "Where do you get your ideas."

The answers range from the serious to the silly, but one that I really like is:

"Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don't see any." —Orson Scott Card

Your assignment as you go about your regular life today is to notice one thing—just one—that would make a good story.

(Okay, you can notice more than one, but notice at least one.)


LDS_Publisher said...

Here's one that I noticed as I wrote tomorrow's post which makes fun of some LDS publishers:

What if they got really mad at me and hired a hit man to take me out? How would I know? Could I evade the hit man?

Which took me to, what if I were a book reviewer and a psycho author decided to exact revenge for a bad review? Ahhh. I like that one.

Anonymous said...

You don't really walk past story ideas. Sorry Orson. Story ideas don't grow on trees for us to effortlessly place into our harvest baskets.

Finding a story idea is reverse story-telling. When you write a novel, you first have to come up with a story idea:

Publishers hire a hit man to kill LDS Publisher.

Next, you have to figure out the subtle motivation(s) behind the murder. Why do they WANT to kill LDS Publisher?

1. She's starting to compete.

2. She's sending authors to national publishers.

3. She's trying to take over our publishing house.

4. The publisher thinks she knows that the publishing house is a front for organized crime. Or maybe terrorists.

You get rid of the less believeable options and you're pretty much left with #4 on this list. The possibilites are, shall we say, not worth the risk.

Here's where you get into a genre. Is this going to be a thirller? An adventure? A romance?

How about: LDS Publisher is really Sherri Dew and she's going to fake her own murder, disappear and save the downtown reconstruction from too many underground parking garages.

Its a green revolutionary story idea. Maybe?

But you get the process, don't you? Story idea. Then plot. Then the subtle, and seemingly endless, motivations that will prod your characters into action. Its a simple one, two, three.

But when you come up with story ideas you're essentially doing the whole novel writing things in reverse. Three. Two. One.

You see little motivations everywhere. You react to the thousands of stimuli everyday. That's what Orson was really talking about. The stimuli. You don't thousands of story ideas everyday, you come across thousands of stimuli. What makes you fearful? For LDS publisher, ticking off a powerful publishing house, gives her a tingue of fear and that led her to beginnings of a story idea. What stimuli make you happy? Sad? Vengeful? Jealous? Disturbed? Upset? Joyful? Pensive? Fulfilled? At ease? Comfortable? Inquisitive? Determined? Hopeful? Philisophical?

You experience a host of reactions on a daily basis. And, if you're in an inventive mood, or if you're just blessed with what most call creativity, but which is probably better defined as inventiveness, you jump back a step. You go from #3, reactions to stimuli, to #2, motivations or what we could call the essence of plot.

Step two is rooted in the why. Why do I feel fear? Why do I feel upset? Why am I joyful? Determined? Mysterious? Vengeful?

Finally, your reactions to stimuli (step 3) and your serach for WHY do you react that way (step 2), leads you to step #1: an idea for your story.

The idea for you story can be very general. But if you think about it for just a second longer. Or two. Let your daily reactions, and your motivations simmer up into your story idea, you come up with a more complete possibility for you novel--in other words you come up with a story idea that has a discernable beginning and end.

In fact the best, most complete story ideas, have a fairly descent understanding of the end and the beginning.

They may grow on trees Mr. Card, but there's a lot more to the harvest than one, two, three!

Moriah Jovan said...

You don't really walk past story ideas. Sorry Orson. Story ideas don't grow on trees for us to effortlessly place into our harvest baskets.

Uh, well, they do for me. I trip over them every day. They may give me something for my current WIP. They may give me something new.

I see things. I ask "Why is X happening?"

Say I go to the riverboat casino. I see two young children sitting quietly on a bench just outside the "dock" with a hotdog and a glass of water each, knowing that the "cruise" just left (i.e., the casino is closed to entrants) and will be "gone" for the next two hours.

I overhear the attendant say, "Oh, they've been there all day."

I ask myself, "Why?" Answer: "Caretaker is in the casino somewhere gambling."

I ask, "Why?" Answer: "I don't know. Is the caretaker a man or a woman? A parent? A babysitter? What?"

I ask, "Let's say it's a woman. And their mother. What is she playing?" Answer: "I don't know. I'll guess slots."

I ask, "Where does she come from? Answer: "I don't know."

And so on until I "know" the person who would leave small children parked outside a casino all day and why.

And then I "know" this person.

So, yes, maybe I do work backward, and maybe I do, actually, WORK so I suppose one could say they don't grow on trees for me, but not a day goes by that something doesn't spark me.

Sometimes I write them down. Sometimes I don't.

Another example:

Overheard in a high-end burger joint, two medical software engineers in very low voices who thought I was thoroughly engaged in my trashy romance novel:

"You didn't hear this from me. So the software had a bug where the nurse would put in an insulin drip dosage, and the program would switch decimal places, giving the patient more insulin than prescribed."

"Sh*t. Did it kill anybody?"

"Three people that we know of. It's in litigation. We're fixing the bug and going to hang the nurse on it."

You better believe I wrote that down. Full-blown plot, right there. And that was before that device was used on Law and Order. I didn't bother with it after that.

Jon Spell said...

I have a co-worker who disappears for an hour each day with a pair of binoculars. Where does he go? What's he watching? (Who is he really working for?)

I feel like there's a story there from what he could be doing, even if all he really is doing is bird watching (or girl watching)

Anna said...

I love that quote. I have gotten many story ideas from moments throughout the day. Then it went from that one moment to develop into a fairly decent plot plan. Now I just need to work on getting the rest of the story down.