Thursday, June 01, 2006

Ideas, ideas, ideas!

Once, long ago, I took a college level creative writing class. The instructor, Professor Larry Pike, was more a poet than a fiction writer but he had an excellent grasp on how to develop a story and what tools the writer needed in his/her arsenal. I enjoyed the class so much, that I took the next level course the following semester. Unfortunately, Professor Pike had succumbed to cancer and was replaced by one of his former students whose main claim to fame was that he was a Professor of Industrial Management at another local university. He didn't want us to write science fiction. He didn't want us to write romance. He didn't want us to write fantasy. To be honest, I'm not sure what he wanted us to do unless it was to bask in his glory.

This fellow seemed to think that we couldn't come up with our own ideas so he spent inordinate amounts of time giving us 'imaginative' items to create stories around. That approach might be necessary for first year creative writing students but it didn't do a thing for me.

Ideas are one thing I've never lacked. Big ideas, little ideas, tiny tidbits that worm their way into plots I'm already working on...they hit me like the salvo from a battle cruiser.

My first novel, Heartstone, arose from the idea of colony insects but I morphed it one step (okay, a couple of steps) further. Instead of a colony or hive mentality, I gave the villainous alien life form a single mind. Lots of bodies, yeah, but all controlled by one mind.

My second novel, Devil's Choice (which has just been bought by Triskelion Publishing and is now titled Altered Destiny) was predicated on the idea that major, world changing decisions could create alternate worlds. Okay, that's been done a few times but my twist involves the elf-like Qui'arel whose science is based on belief.

The third novel, Rider, involves a sentient nanobic life form that lives as a symbiotic parasite on its host.

Then there's my short fiction--a disabled man who lives in computer generated worlds and whose job is to act as both an escort for and counselor to normal humans who rely more heavily on those worlds than the reality they live in; explorers investigating a planet revolving around a binary star system; a cleaning lady who is jolted into a bubble universe with a handsome scientist; a woman warrior who is brought back from death by an evil sorceress...you get the picture.

Ideas are not a scarcity around here.

I've been asked by some of my students (I teach fiction writing techniques at my local community college) where do my ideas come from? A lot, I admit, come from reading Scientific American or watching the Discovery channel (I have a passion for the science shows), some come from dreams (the cleaning lady gets bopped into the bubbleverse by a dust bunny--don't laugh, the ones in my house could probably transport us all into a different universe!), some just show up knocking on my mental door with a big cheesy grin and a 'Hi, wouldn't it be cool if--'

Nope, ideas are not a scarcity.

Oh, and the Professor of Industrial Management? For my final, I wrote a short story depicting him as the victim of a gruesome murder using the items he'd laid out to 'spur' our imaginations. I believe that was his last semester teaching Creative Writing.

5 comments:

MK Mancos/Kathleen Scott said...

I too have a windfall of ideas. It's not the ideas I lack, but the time to fully realize them all. I end up getting a new idea before I finish one, but I know which ones I will later develop into short stories and novels.

My novella, "Fatal Error" arose from an idea I wrote for a university creative writing class. I decided I could tweak the opening, add some hot love scenes and pitch it to Red Sage. Four months later, I had my first sale. It can...and does happen...in this business. You just have to let those ideas germinate and listen to the voices in your head.

Cassandra Kane said...

I once went to a critique workshop/class run by a shabby middle-aged guy who thought he was the bees knees because he'd had one obscure novel published, 15 years before, and nothing else since. He slammed a young writer who read out her chapter, which was romance-y in tone, because he considered it too predictable with, I quote: "only one possible ending". So I piped up and said I could think of at least 10 different endings for that story. Apart from wanting to defend the girl (who looked shattered by his comment), I truly could think of more than 10 different endings for that particular first chapter. The fact that he honestly could only see one possible ending really gave weight to the saying: "Those that can, do; and those that can't, teach."

I've come across a great teacher in a short story writing class I took, but she was an active writer.

Lynda K. Scott said...

I hear ya, Kat. Time is at such a premium--especially if you have a day job or a family. I wish I could find a way to get a few extra hours in the day.

Cassandra, you're kidding! Oh man, I hate teachers like that. Good for you on defending the student.

Skylar Masey said...

Ditto this for me Lynda. I minored in English at college and took a creative writing class, because I thought it would be an easy A. Though at the time I didn't know half of what I know now.

Our teacher was the head of the drama department, so he thought he was hot stuff and on par with writing at its core. He frowned upon my romantic themes saying they should appear in women's mags. Everyone else was writing literary fiction.

I didn't let him get my goat, and wrote what I wanted with a little compromise tossed in the mix. I managed to dazzle him and got an A.

But I'll never forget the time I had to go head-to-head in that class by reading a sex scene to show gender differences. The guy went first and of course it was bordering on vulgar with all the crude snynonyms for body parts. Mine was the "feminine" version, though it delved into bondage. To say the least everyone in the class was surprised that I (the shy, timid mouse) had written something so hot. :0)

I actually thought about pulling that novella out and revamping it (since that was back in '97 and times have changed). I had no idea until I was taking a nostalgic look back that I'd attempted 1st person and done a bang up job (yes, pun intended). But that'll come when I have time to fritter away.

Lynda K. Scott said...

Skylar, I bet it wouldn't take a whole lot to dust that story off. You should give it a shot!