Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Getting Fresh Ideas

Some writers have trouble with ideas, but I'm not one of them. Every time I go to a cocktail party someone says they have a story and would I care to write it for them. They'll give me half the royalties.

Just kidding. Not about the offers, but about the cocktail parties. I rarely go to any these days, but it doesn't matter anyway. I've never  accepted an offer. There's just too much out there to inspire a story for me to even consider drawing on someone elses imagination.

I think it helps that love pop culture and current events because it's where I get most of my ideas. My SHADOW werewolf series came out of memories of Abbot and Costello meeting the tragic wolfman, Lon Chaney. THE FIRE OPAL was inspired by the cartoon movie, The Rescuers. THE DRAGON HOUR was inspired by Dr. Who, a British syndicated TV show of the 70's and 80's. And, because someone said I should make Scotland my next setting because Scotland was all the rage.

It all comes from being engaged in everyday life. Tonight, for instance, inspired my approach in this blog. I was watching the final Olympic trials while I was composing the blob and it occurred to me that something momentous was happening. Dara Torres was competing for an Olympic slot on the American swim team.

Unless you followed the Beijing Olympics you may not know who Dara Torres is. She competed with the American team and it was her eighth Olympics. She was forty years old competing against teenagers and had already won nine medals. Her first child was fifteen months old and this was going to be her last Olympics. But she wanted to go out with a gold medal. 

She missed by a fraction of a second. She placed in all three events where she swam, but always the silver. My heart ached for her when she stood on that podium to receive her final silver medal, trying to hold back the tears trickling down her face. It was, she thought then, her last Olympics and she wasn't leaving as the gold medalist she wanted to be. 

Now here she was in Nebraska four years later, competing against fifteen-year-old.  Age forty-five and attending with her six-year-old daughter, she wanted to make the team for her. This would be her ninth Olympics and twenty-eight year in the sport. She would never swim competitively again. Truly her last chance.  If you watched the Olympic trials or followed the news, you know how it turned out.

She failed.

Not only would she not win her last gold, she didn't even make the team. Her heart was breaking and her daughter was inconsolable.
(Although, if you check out the Dara Torres Wiki page,  it's clear she's a full-on incomparable champion).

So there's the fresh idea, you might say. It has it all. A huge goal, high stakes, committed heroine, competition, conflict, unpredictable obstacles, helpers, friends, enemies. I could go on and on (oh, I think I did). But that's not where I would start her story. Why? Because it begins with so much hope then ends with failure.

I hate to end stories on a downer. I prefer to begin on a downer. Here Dara--okay, let's make it Cara since this is now fiction. Cara has finally been defeated. She can't rise from this one. Her knees are shot, her lifelong coach has died, her beloved daughter, who just knew her perfect mom would qualify, is sobbing.

Dara's story can be expressed as an idea this way: A young girl dedicates her entire life to being a champion swimmer and wants to exit her career with a gold medal.

Having failed, the the story changes to: a middle aged woman must finally acknowledge that her career is over.

This is where I'd start the story. This is the fresh idea.

What, you say, you've gotta be nuts. Probably true, but look at it this way. A fresh idea is nothing but a new blank page.

Fresh ideas don't already contain all the pieces of the story. They are the launch pads for new stories. This now becomes a story about a woman, a wife, a mother who was once a world class swimmer and now needs to replace her passion for swimming with an equally compelling purpose.

So, most likely, a good fresh idea is something that sparks a question and good stories only come to life when the questions begin to get answers. You think that might be right?

One thing I believe to be absolutely true is that fresh ideas don't come to you out of the blue. They come from paying attention to life, to human behavior, to sounds and sights and smells and the way things feel when you touch or taste them. Some writer think ideas are in the ozone and just land on your shoulder in their own good time.

Could be true, but I would still add that the idea will land a lot if you view every moment you live as a  potential idea.

So how about you? What do you think constitutes a fresh idea? What triggers your ideas? Where do you think they come from? How do you generate them? I'd like to get your thoughts. Leave your contact info when you comment and you'll be entered into a drawing for SHADOW ON THE MOON, the first book in my bestselling werewolf series. 

Thanks for stopping by.


Anonymous said...

Interesting reading Connie. I've always wondered where writers get their ideas.

Connie Flynn said...

Thanks. If you want to enter the contest but prefer to do it privately email me at connieflynn@yahoo.com