Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Think About Opposites

One of my recent blogs talked about how much fiction is out there and the tough time readers having choosing what to read.

There may be more books on the shelves these days, but original ideas are still hard to come by. I see a lot of story proposals, but too often I see the same predictable occupations, settings, conflicts, and solutions to problems.

I just told an author recently about seeing a lot of stories using children who either run away from home or get lost and need to be hunted down. Authors use this as a catalyst for the hero and heroine to be brought together. I’ve also seen several cases where a hero gets in an accident toward the end of the book and this makes either the hero or heroine realize that life is too short for them to stay apart any longer.

I think authors need to brainstorm deeper. Don’t settle for the first thing that comes to mind—because it has likely been done before. Look for the opposite of your knee jerk reaction to find the most unexpected scenario.

Say you want to do a story about crossing the ocean to a new country over 100 years ago. Does it have to be a European coming to America? Think the opposite of your first reaction. What about an American going to England and trying to fit into London society?

Want to write about a preacher? Most preachers live and work in small-town America. What about putting your preacher on a college campus? The dynamics and problems of a campus church would look very different from those in a small-town church and create interesting new conflicts.

Want to set your story during a war? Your young hero would likely be a soldier—or would he? Consider the opposite case and have him either be unable to serve due to health or as an objector of some form. Why would he object—political, religious, etc? What conflicts does his position raise among his community (even in his family) against those in authority, etc.?

There is value in meeting with friends in brainstorming sessions. Sometimes a friend who doesn’t have the skill or interest in actual writing can still have a very broad and active imagination that can help you probe the “what if” scenarios.

Just be sure when brainstorming among other authors that you set up an agreement about who “owns” the ideas that come out of each session and who has the right to run with them in a story. Do this before any ideas start to flow. Ideas can’t be copyrighted, but you can create a snake’s pit of hurt feelings if an author feels an idea of his or hers was taken and published by another author from the brainstorming session without their “permission.”

What is the most original story content that you’ve seen lately in a new book release?


Janet Spaeth said...

This is a terrific post, Becky. Lots of good things to think about as we all plot our way forward!

Myra Johnson said...

Thought-provoking topic, Becky. Hmmm, it isn't a new release, but I'm just now reading The Secret Life of Bees. The central theme is not new (racism), but Sue Monk Kidd's use of the bee metaphor is quite striking. Makes me wonder what prompted her to tie the two themes together.

Mary Connealy said...

I love brainstorming with other authors but I've gotten in a good habit of brainstorming with myself, too. It's a really creative process, just letting your mind turn over possible directions, tweak and discard and play with plot ideas.

I do it while I lay awake at night because I'm an insomniatic dork.
I find it more restful than praying or pondering the state of the world.

Myra Johnson said...

LOL, Mary, I love your wild and creative mind. You can brainstorm with me anytime! (Still want to plan a real live brainstorming retreat one of these days.)

Pam Hillman said...

Oh, Myra, that would be fun. I sat in on a brainstorming session about a month ago with an awesome bunch. I'm not sure how much help we were, but I had a lot of fun.

I like the idea of flipping things around and not going with the first idea that occurs to us.

Ed J. Horton said...

Along with several other blogs I frequent, I'm an avid reader of The Edit Cafe. Sometimes, if I'm short on time, as I was yesterday, I quickly scan the blog and make a mental note (ok, that's dangerous), to come back later and read it in its entirety. For some reason the first line my eyes lit upon was, "I’ve also seen several cases where a hero gets in an accident...makes either the hero or heroine realize that life is too short for them to stay apart any longer."

[insert semi-phony gasp here]

Oh, boy! An accident with the realization of true love...that's exactly what I've done in one of my manuscripts. Perhaps I shouldn't admit that, but it's the unfortunate truth.

Brainstorming? Opposite reactions? Great ideas! I can see I have plenty of work ahead.

Perhaps instead of an accident I'll have the protag captured by aliens or... :)

Anyway, thanks for sharing some much-needed insight (at least for me).

Becky said...

Ed -- Sorry to deflate your enthusiasm about your story. Brainstorming another scenario could never hurt, but also each editor thinks differently. Another editor may not feel that these two examples are overdone.

Darlene Franklin said...

I recently read two mysteries (one secular, one Christian) with the same basic premise: someone close to the heroine was accused of murder--and they were actually guilty. The question lay in why they committed the crime.

Both authors thought of the same opposite--and I picked the books up at the same time.

It's hard to come up with unusual ideas--thanks for prodding us!