Friday, November 1, 2013

Rule 5: Be Wary of First Ideas

     Without first ideas, we writers would be nowhere. That first spark of inspiration that gets a whole story or thesis or whatever project rolling down the hill at a hundred miles an hour, it's one of the most exciting experiences I know.

     But it can't stop at the first idea. Especially in the storytelling realm. And even in nonfiction too. I started this rule to comment on (complain about) some overused plot devices that I found annoying. Now I'm talking about first ideas. Without that first idea, this entry wouldn't exist, but without long and hard thought about it, it would still be an unfinished page in my closet.

     What do I mean about being wary of first ideas? I certainly don't mean to put down any idea you have just because it was the first thing that came to mind. But be careful about those first things. Think and develop on that first idea to see how you could make it more original and unique. Sometimes it works to focus on trying to solve a difficulty with the idea, and other times it's good to let your imagination wander until it finds something you can use.

     Oftentimes, it won't do just to sit back and stare into space. I do my share of daydreaming, and at times it's productive. Other times, I'm just going back through what I've already decided before. That's not very useful at all. In those times, it's good to go through a process of brainstorming. I like to think of it as jumping through these multiple universes and exploring the differences between them until I find which one really interests me.

     For example, a first idea (or first "universe") would be to have Adam meet a girl named Beatrice, fall for her and pursue her, only to be thwarted by the Reaper himself, who takes her home prematurely, and now Adam has to struggle with loneliness and anger at fate. OK, that might make an alright story.

     But what if we hop into another universe and find something else, like maybe instead of Adam chasing Beatrice, she goes after him. That's different, but not what I'm looking for. On to another universe. Perhaps in this one Adam dies, leaving Beatrice only able to wonder what their relationship might have been. Or maybe in yet another world, neither Adam nor Beatrice die, but Adam has to move away because of his job and asks Beatrice to come with him, leaving her with a terrible choice: to leave her home and friends for this guy, or to deny him and stay where she's comfortable. Or maybe Adam doesn't ask, and deals with his heartache privately. Or maybe he quits his job so he can stay where Beatrice is. Or, perhaps he has to move to take care of his dying mother, so his emotions are even more out of control.

     What if, instead of being lovers, Adam and Beatrice are brother and sister? Supposing Beatrice falls for some guy and Adam investigates him, only to find out he's one of those no-good, dirty, rotten...types. How then does he deal with Beatrice and her emotions? Or perhaps Beatrice's sweetheart is a very fine, upstanding individual who makes Adam angry because he wants to find fault with him but can't. Or maybe Adam feels a bittersweet heartache knowing that this guy will be better to her than Adam ever was. What if Adam is the one who's in love, and Beatrice the one who's uneasy?

     Supposing Adam is twelve and Beatrice is seventeen. How do they relate to each other? Are they best friends or mortal enemies? Are they the only siblings in the family, or is there another brother or sister hiding somewhere, eager to appear? We could bring death in here again. Was it Adam or Beatrice who died? One of their parents? Their unborn baby brother? How do they react?

     I didn't tell you this before, but I'm only really writing this because I enjoy thinking through all these situations with Adam and Beatrice. But my point is still the same. Any of the proposed scenarios above could probably make an interesting story. The purpose of going through them all is to find the best one--that which interests you the most.

     Don't discard your first ideas, whatever you do. But think about them long and hard. Don't take them at face value. Ponder the possibilities, wondering always about how to make your work better. Even the mere willingness to do so will improve your writing. Let the first ideas come, then explore them for all they're worth.

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