Monday, June 26, 2006

Seeds I Can Borrow

Every idea, great or small starts with a seed. Sometimes it’s a comment, other times it can be something you’re witness to. That little speck of almost nothing takes root and grows in our imagination. From a small sprout it branches out as our brains insert it in plots or use it’s static details to flesh out characters and settings.

So I wondered where do you start in your brainstorming process? What roots a story in your mind so that it can blossom?

For me it’s intriguing tidbits that jump out from a plethora of information intercepted via my four senses—taste, hearing, sight and touch. I can’t smell, so that leaves me at a disadvantage. (I actually had a contest judge ask why I didn’t use smells in my description. That forced me to take a closer look at what I might be leaving out that could enrich my story.) Since I have a visual background I’m also very open to things I see because I think in pictures. But of course that can get me into trouble if I try to describe too much. And as we all know that's a hard balancing act in itself.

I’m a huge movie buff (except for horror) and love to people watch. Which means I look like I’m staring off into space a lot. Really I’m mentally recording bits of conversation (people can talk about strange topics), fashion that my characters might wear (especially tweens since it was years since I fell into that category), and interesting finds (ie. pics of black holes, star systems, etc.)

Touching back on strange conversation, I was at a jam-packed Wendy’s yesterday where there weren’t many seats to choose from. I decided to sit in the one with four booths laid out like a cushy pinwheel. To the back of me sat a group of two thirty-something men and one of my old high school class members. They were talking loudly about work shifts, what kind of job they’d heard such and such got and of course Harley’s. To the left of me were two older men, who I’d guesstimate fell into the range of late fifties or early sixties. Though they weren’t my peers, they caught and held my interest because I’d never heard anyone discuss their topic. Back and forth they traded insights on the similarities and differences of medieval war (Japanese clans) versus modern day. Don’t tell me your interest wouldn’t be piqued if you heard a couple old guys comparing the Al-Qaida beheadings to Japanese warlord “hits”.

What caused my ears to zero in in the first place? One asked the other a question. “When were more lives lost—at Pearl Harbor or on 9/11?” They went on to talk about how altering the course of actions during World War II and other strategic missions could’ve changed the world today. Not only did they discuss military issues, but also factored in economics! My mom thought they were boring as plain `ol garden variety dirt (without the white sprinkles), but I found them fascinating. It made me wonder what else they knew, and astonished me that they’d retained so much in an age when it’s in one ear and out the other.

Will I use anything I learned from them? Maybe, later on down the road. Right this second I’m going with Dippin’ Dots, a food I heard all about on Unwrapped (from the Food Network) last night while eating dinner out with the family. Touted as the “ice cream of the future”, how could my ears not perk up? I’ve already set up my heroine to crave some of that sweet delicacy, so how can I not use this “happy little accident”? Of course, if it didn’t work with my character arc or GMC then I wouldn’t put in just because it’s “cool”.

The “greenthumb” magic comes from how you filter the information you receive. You can take it in, twist it up and make it come out your fingers anyway you like. But that whole process starts with a seed…and preferably not one that sticks between your teeth.


MK Mancos/Kathleen Scott said...

Well, first of all let's agree to call the men of fifty odd years, 'seasoned gentlemen' : )

I enjoyed that story because I don't think it's all that out of the norm. My hubby and I have conversations like that on a daily basis. Not that we're closet intellectuals or even have all our facts correct, but we love to debate things and compare historical events to those happening now.

My ideas come from a variety of sources from snippets in dreams to something I read in FATE magazine. Or heard on the news, or a documentary. I am a documentary junkie...I've actually Jonesed for them a time or two when I couldn't find one on television.

Sometimes conversations at work can give me good ideas...not necessarily for entire books, but for things that happen to characters I've already established. Backgrounds or weird happenings. I have one instance taken from a co-worker that will show up in my next novel. I'll tell you all about it when I've written it.

Sometimes I have no clue where my ideas come from, they just come to me. I've told people before that if I didn't write I'd probably be schizophrenic, because of all the people and places I have living in my head. I have to purge them somehow.

I find the older I get the more I don't listen to those around me, I just sort of tune them out...I'm usually staring off into space writing a scene in my head, or trying to work out a plot point. I get in trouble all the time at home because my husband tells me I never listen to him. Not true...I do listen, he just doesn't give me enough time to come out of my thought fog before he starts talking. There's about a 10 second lag time between the time he says 'Hey, Kat' and the time my brain is actually ready to receive any information he's giving me. You'd think he'd know this by now. By the time my brain actually catches up, he's halfway done with whatever he's saying and gets mad when I ask him, 'What?' - So, as you see...I already have enough information stuffed into my brain to stuff much more...and yet...I always seem to find new ideas cropping up from some unnamed source. My idea books must number in the hundreds of entries. If I never got another new idea from this day forward, I would still have enough ideas to write for the rest of my life. I should probably start an idea farm...that way people can buy the sprouts of my thoughts...take them home and replant them and see what grows.


Lynda K. Scott said...

Great topic, Skylar and Kat!

I'm not sure where my ideas come from...I'm not sure it's one source. Like Kat, it could be dreams (and sometimes is). I tend to watch a lot of stuff from the Science channels or the History Channel or the Discovery Channel...In fact, I saw one show recently that perfectly described the parasitic life form in the novel I'm currently working on.

My only real problem is that the minute I get entranced in what I'm watching/listening to, someone in my house is sure to come in and start yammering at me, usually this is my husband. He'll be standing there talking about what a crappy deal a certain politician is offering us and I'll be waving my hand frantically to shut him up (g)

He *so* doesn't appreciate that (g)