Facts about Fiction 6

 From The Brain Rummager by Brian Barratt

 Where do stories come from?

If you ask a professional author where plots come from, you will probably get the answer, "They just come". That doesn't sound very helpful, but it is one of the facts about being a creative writer. There are days when you can think until you are blue in the face, and ideas will not come. At other times, ideas simply flow from your mind and into your keyboard.

Ideas for stories can arrive in your mind at all sorts of times. They don't necessarily arrive when someone else such as a teacher says, "And now we'll all write about..." It is not always resonable to expect students to come up with captivating stories at the drop of a hat, is it? That's why you need time to jot down your ideas, prepare outlines and write drafts.

Some professional authors might write just a few sentences a day, carefully crafting those sentences until they are perfect. Others set themselves the task of writing, say, 1,000 words each day. Creating fiction is not always an easy process. It's as well to remember Edison's famous words: Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

Here are some ideas which might help you.

Characters tell their own story

You might see someone in a crowd, or meet an interesting person for the first time. A character might just arrive in your mind "from nowhere". Ideas for a story about this person might start bubbling in your brain straight away. Let this happen. It might take two or three weeks, but a character might eventually tell their story for you in your mind. In other words, do not be afraid of your imagination!

Be a people-watcher

Without being intrusive or rude, study people. Look at how a person dresses. Make a note of anything unusual. Watch faces while people are talking. Note how a person moves and uses their hands. Listen to their voices, their accents, and for words and turns of phrase they use.

Do not judge people. Quietly analyse them if you wish, and without them being aware. Watch them and accept them as they are. They are potential material for your stories!

Ask "What if...?"

In almost any situation, during almost any event, at almost any place, you can ask "What if...?" Suppose the person you are watching did the opposite of what you see them do. Suppose a quite different result emerged from what is happening. Suppose something extraordinary took place. The creative writer brings together ideas from many sources, and puts them together in new ways.

At its simplest level, this approach leads to questions such as, "What if that paper bag could speak?" At a more complex level it might be, "What if there is some strange connection between that door-knob and a tuba?" or "What if someone's trusted friend was actually a spy ...or a criminal ...or a twin separated soon after birth?" Do not be afraid to indulge in fantasy! It is not a waste of time. Perhaps you will not use the first ideas, but they could lead to other story outlines.

Balance planned plots with real life

Real life has no plot. It just happens. This is why it is so important for the creative writer to watch people, their behaviour, and how they interact. It is also why the creative writer asks "What if...", imagining alternatives ranging from real possibilities to fantasy.

A tedious story is one where the writer merely recounts, in effect, "Then they did this, then they did that..." without any apparent reason or aim. Although this seems to happen in real life, there is often a particular sequence of events that come together as being interesting or purposeful in themselves. Life is a continuing series of encounters: meetings, relationships, challenges, questions, problems, mysteries, fulfilled hopes, and disappointments. They can involve people, places, things and the passage of time.

When your story is flowing, or while you are working on a plot, keep it in tune with the fact that real life is unpredictable. Your task is to organise the unpredictable!

You write from your own experience

It is said the a person's first novel is about themselves. This may or may not be true. It is certainly true that the raw material for your writing comes from your own memories, experiences and ideas. So don't let your childhood and teenage memories fade away. In fact, you can even write about them now, before they disappear for ever.

  Copyright 2005 Brian Barratt. This material may be copied or printed only for use by students in school classrooms.

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