The more time I spend writing, the more time I spend searching for ideas. Writing is easy, certainly easier than Hemingway implies (all you have to do is bleed). Writing is a way of running with words. All it takes is an idea. Then I just go.
But finding the next idea is always the trick. Once I have the idea, it churns through my mind until a twist identifies itself. Then I choose my characters, set the scenes and start narrating. That part is simple and usually complete in a short time. Getting the idea in the first place, however, is more like stumbling in the dark, picking up random items and saying to myself, “is that an idea?”
Okay, finding an idea is actually pretty easy. It just seems hard when I don’t have one. In truth, I can find a dozen ideas in a single day, if I’m so inclined. But the next one is always just beyond my reach, just out of view, impossible to visualize, seemingly unlikely.
I suppose the real trick is finding an interesting idea. Ideas are everywhere, but one that piques my interest, that is a more difficult task.
A good idea takes no more than three words. I was reading “A Book of Memories,” by Peter Nadas. He described an actress trying to play a scene while the director gave her some rather one-dimensional instructions. The words “actress” and “director,” were enough to provide my next story (the recently published “The Director”). Take two characters and put them at odds, give them opposing interests or directions, mold them into a conflict.
Once I consciously decide to look for an idea, it may take me no more than five minutes. I just start looking around, watching television, listening to lyrics, reading some prose. Poetry works too, I suppose. Characters and conflict. The world is full of it.
Exploring the idea is a different process, telling myself stories with the characters and conflict until it yields a twist interesting enough to render in prose. I change the setting, change the facts, change the conclusion, change the perspective. Every story is a possible one, but I keep searching until I find one that strikes me as fun. Nothing ever comes of trying to tell a story that isn’t fun. If I don’t enjoy the tale, how could anyone?
Sometimes I think I should try to capture every possible story that is contained in an idea, at least to preserve the possibility. But with ideas so easy to find, I don’t bother. If the story is really interesting, I’ll make it up again. Sometimes the second-rate stories deserve to be shelved. If it had really been that good, it would have risen to the top.
Having just finished another story, I’m again searching for an idea. Let’s see how long it takes ….