The Idea of an Idea

Thoughts on Writing/I Make Up Worlds #1

#imakeupworlds - this is a tweet thread originally posted on Twitter on Wednesday 22 April 2020.


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"I have a great idea for a story. You write it, and we'll split the proceeds 50/50."

What is an idea? Do some people have an idea of what an Idea is, and what it means? What is idea in relationship to story? How do we turn an idea into a story?

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Standard disclaimer: I do not have A Program. There is no Secret Handshake. I'm going to tweet some of my thoughts based on my experiences and my opinion. Not even all of my thoughts! Just some of them!

I'm adding a tweet number for my own convenience. This is threaded.

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If your ideas are no good, why don't you write MY ideas?"

Here's the idea of an Idea valorized over the work. I know many writers who've had similar experiences with people who think the Idea is the single most important part of a story.

An Idea of itself is not a story.

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Part of the work is how to turn an idea into a story.

Part of the work is understanding that a single "Idea" can be taken by every different writer and turned in a different story because the work of making it into a story "individualizes" the idea as part of that process. 

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Ideas are, in their way, cheap. Envisioning how to use an idea combined with execution (often through trial & error, mistakes, rewriting & revision) is the hard part.

Part of it might be instinct--I don't know--but part of it is trained repetition.

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Speculative fiction has often been called "the literature of ideas." As well, what some people claim constitutes an "idea" has in the past sometimes/often been limited to what I'll call "nifty concepts" usually based on science.

But story ideas are huge & everywhere.

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For example, here are four possible idea vectors:

Concept

Character

Plot

Landscape.

How do you use that idea to create the narrative or a focus for a narrative?

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Let's say I want to write a pandemic story. Topical!

Now obviously most stories need concept, character, plot, and landscape. But one way to help yourself learn how to dig the story out of the idea is to situate your idea in one place first and build out.

For example:

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Will my pandemic story build out from a conceptualization about response or the disease itself? Does a corrupt government purposely infect a confined vulnerable population to get antibodies for the rich? Does a competent government race to mitigate a virulent breakout?

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Will my pandemic story build out from a character's specific journey (which is also an idea)? A woman in 1918, unable to attend medical school, becomes the de facto town doctor. A youth escorts her endangered friend cross country to safety.

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Will my pandemic story build out from strongly plot dependent reasons? Can a makeshift relay of determined people get the vaccine to the snowed in village in time? People unknowingly infected spread out across the country. What happens?

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Will my pandemic story build out from the idea of landscape and all the different ways that changes of this magnitude ripple through a world.

Do I want to show a world that breaks down into anarchy, or a world that builds networks of care across fragile social eco-systems? 

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I'm making these up as I'm typing them right now because I have so much practice turning any idea or nifty concept or flash of image into a possible narrative setup. 

There's less to mystery in turning an idea into a story and far more to practice.

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I can't emphasize enough how useful it is to come up with multiple stubs (I just made up that way of phrasing it). Poke at them; write 1000 words; make notes. Many of them will go nowhere but the practice is gold because maybe you figure out what lost YOUR interest.

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In the earliest stage of having a basic idea and trying to figure out how to turn it into a story it can be helpful to figure out your starting place, your angle (if you will), to get a solid grip on that story ledge and work out from there.

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Next Wed 4/29 I'll discuss:

"I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged." (Peter Brook)

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