Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Finding Your Muse

The Ramble Topic for this month is Finding Your Muse. That's easy, I got mine right here:

Ok, I don't think that's the Muse we're supposed to be talking about. (Though, for the record, I am going to this concert)

I've heard many professional writers say the most annoying question they get asked is "Where do you get your ideas?". Now, I'm no professional, not yet, but even I've been asked this question more than once. So, where do I get my ideas? The simple answer is: Anywhere and everywhere.

Now, I know that doesn't really narrow it down, so I'll explain. The ideas for my stories most often start with the question, "What if...?" It can strike any time of day, during any activity, in any place. No matter what I'm doing, something will catch my attention, and my mind will ask, "Well, what if...". And suddenly I have a seed for a new story. I'd say upwards of 90% of these What If's go unanswered. There are just too many for me to fully flesh out into solid story ideas. Besides, not all of them are worth exploring. But every now and then, a spark of an idea will ignite in my tiny, chaotic mind and will begin to spread like a wildfire. At some point, the fire will become large enough that my conscious brain will take note and start exploring the possibilities; creating characters, developing plot, assigning setting, etc. That's when the real fun begins.

For example, I was playing Halo 3 ODST a few years back (great game, my favorite campaign story of the entire series, for anyone who's interested). I was trying to complete the level very quickly, and at one point, I climbed into a 4-wheel drive vehicle (known as a warthog) and drove as fast as I could through a narrow canyon past all of the enemies without bothering to fight them. As I swung wide around an approaching enemy tank, with several infantry units shooting at my passing vehicle, I thought to myself, this is kind of cool, traveling as fast as I can and hoping that I don't get blown up before I make it out. Then the question popped into my mind, What if there was a high speed train on an alien planet that ran between two settlements through a canyon infested with deadly creatures, and the train had to keep up its top speed or the creatures could land on it and tear it apart?

Thus my short story, "Riding the Titanium Bullet" was born.

Another time I proofread a story for a friend. It was a good idea fairly well written, but the ending fell flat. In trying to help my friend I suggested an alternate ending that I thought would be much cooler and would fit the story better. Unfortunately, though he liked the idea, my friend said that was not the type of story he was trying to tell and dismissed the suggestion. No big deal. However, I couldn't get that ending out of my head. The idea pestered me to the point that I actually asked my friend if he would mind if I wrote a story similar to his but with my ending. He had no problem with that, however, before I started writing, my subconscious mind struck again(!) and asked the question, What if, rather than the ending, my idea was actually the beginning of the story? The  more I thought that through, the more I liked it. So in the end, I wrote a story that takes place a thousand years after the original ending I came up with, but was directly influenced by the events of that ending.

And my story, "Adam" was created.

Sadly, neither of these have been published, but they do serve a point here. Ideas can come from anywhere. The next time you're struggling to find the kernel of a story, or you're just struck by something interesting, an idea or an image, stop and ask yourself "What if...?".

Just be sure to have a notebook handy.

1 comment:

  1. LOL I went to the Muse concert here in Vegas, and I think we have tickets for that one as well. I love Muse!!

    Great post as well, of course. Adam and the Titanium Train sound like very interesting stories... why have I not heard you talking about them??