Wednesday, September 17, 2008

And then...

Ideas arrive in their own time and at their own pace. Damn it! But there are ways around it, and around writer’s block at the same time.

No matter what genre you write in, the urge to write can be overwhelming, as can the frustration of not knowing what to write.

I like to play the ‘and then…’ game. It goes like this: take an innocuous situation. A young boy sits outside under a starry sky and watches a meteor flare. I ask “and then…” A number of scenarios spring to mind: does he hear a sonic boom indicating it might not a meteor after all but something more sinister? Does he dream of one day becoming an astrophysicist or an astronaut? I’m guessing the first, because the others have been done already.

The kid is sure it’s the beginning of an alien invasion, ‘and then…’ all the lights in the street go out? He has an asthma attack at the thought? He jumps to his feet and runs inside to tell his parents? The lights; more intriguing.

Now he’s frightened. He’s not afraid of the dark or he wouldn’t be sitting outside, but he looks back at the darkened house, hears his mother cursing – dinner was almost ready. ‘And then…’ another meteor flares, and another, another, until there are dozens lighting up the sky. Or he hears the jets from the local Air Force base take off, sees the landing lights strobe towards the mountains where the meteor fell. Or his best friends contacts him via the two-way he got for his birthday asking if he saw it.

Hmm… divergence. The first two can take the story in different directions. (And this is where plotting for me mostly fails.) The third slows the story unless the two boys become integral in saving the world. A hero and his side-kick, maybe?

Anyway… by playing ‘and then’ you can slowly build your story or you can build your plot by exploring which ‘and then’ has the most impact. You can also toss in a few curve balls later on. Who says the boy is human, for example; maybe it’s a sign for him to go to the rendezvous point for rescue. Or it’s a sign for his brethren to start revealing their true alien selves. Or a number of scenarios.

It could even be the beginning of a lifetime relationship between a boy and girl. Because you have the genesis of a story, you can choose.

‘And then…’ a simple idea became a book; I’ve been doing it a lot lately.

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