Tuesday, December 4, 2012

When is an IDEA not a story?

Where do you find ideas for stories? Is any idea you or someone else might think of really good enough for a novel? Even I have listened to a simple tale a friend might be relating, and said, "That would make a good story." Really? Would it?

An IDEA is not a story. So, what is it? An idea is only a seed, a brief thought that might have potential...or be worthless.

Probably a thousand times I've seen or heard something and thought it would make a good story. But no, the large majority were just that--brief thoughts with nothing to flesh out the plot.

An author friend once told me, "Never let your husband suggest an idea for a story." Why, I asked. She explained what her husband said. "A guy is driving one direction on the interstate, and a girl is driving the opposite direction. They both stop at the same gas station, fill up their vehicles, and go in to pay with credit cards. When the clerk finishes with the credit cards and pushes them back, the guy and the girl inadvertently switch cards, get in their cars, and continue their journey." My friend said she asked him, "So?" His answer, as he pointed a finger in her direction was, "Go with it."

This became very funny to us, knowing the man and that he knew nothing about writing.

Yes, he had an IDEA. But not a story.

Writing a story is hard work, and to begin, we must have a kernel of an idea, yes, but other facets must pop up soon, or that seed will wither and die.

Red Smith, a once famous sportswriter said, "There's nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at your typewriter and open a vein."

I can identify, as I'm sure all authors can. Often, a flash in inspiration will spark my brain, and I think...this is it! I have the greatest idea for a story! But if I can't get past the brilliant idea, I have nothing.

I don't throw out--delete--anything that I begin. If the story has a decent beginning and I believe the next scene will appear, as well, then I save that document. Alas, I have a folder filled with brilliant ideas. But no stories.

What basics are missing from an idea? Two items: Compelling Characters and Conflict.

Here's an idea that keeps haunting me. I thought of it five years ago but never wrote a word. It's actually an opening scene. Why I thought of it, or what to do with it has never reached fruition. It's really just an idea--and I can't think past this part:

About 1940, in a dark farm house, two little girls, four and two, huddle together in a corner beside a bed. The door opens and a man and a woman step in. Still in the dark, they talk.
"What will we do with them?" he asks.
She replies, "I'll take the little one to raise. The other one will be easier for you to raise."
He says, "But what will we tell people to explain the whole situation?"

Very frustrating.
A good storyteller, though would:
~~*~~Move beyond the initial situation.
~~*~~Create a conflict that will propel the story without stopping.
~~*~~Cultivate the idea through frustrations, obstacles, near misses, and deletions as complex as the characters themselves.
~~*~~Open that vein.

Several years ago, I had a flash of brilliancy and thought of a story. I had an Idea. We were on the interstate driving along, and often I'll get some of my best ideas during those times. I told my husband the beginning of the story. I suppose I didn't explain it very well, because he didn't think much of my idea. So, I kept it in my head for a few months. But the Idea kept returning, and I was compelled to write. And I didn't stop, because by then I knew I had a good story.
Title: Crystal Lake Reunion--now on the Publisher's Top Five Best Sellers for the second time. The publisher lowered the price for me to 99cents so I might sell more on Amazon. It worked. I've now made some money on this one, and it's still 99cents for a while longer.

Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/author/celiayeary
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  1. Celia, I have lots of ideas. It's the ones that stick with me and the characters start unveiling themselves to me that I take and run with. If I can't get excited about the idea, I can't write the book. It's amazing how many people have ideas and think you should write them when they find out you're a writer. LOL Fun post!

  2. My fourth story came from an idea that popped in my head 42 years ago when we walked into an elderly neighbor's house. It was filled with newspaper from floor to ceiling with paths to get around. I kept that idea alive and it worked so well in Broken Promise. I have several other places around our area that keep nigling my brain and must become a story some day.

  3. Paty--yes, if the characters or idea doesn't stick with you, it's a dead idea. You're right, too, that people think as an author we can just write anything? I've been asked to write a column for our church newsletter--ugh--but since it's about the people I do write it. And I've been asked to be the reporter--"take minutes," for the DRT...because "you're a writer." Good grief--I declined that one--can't think of anything more boring. Thanks for you comment!

  4. Paisley--how interesting. I've also pulled some memory of idea from long ago and added it to a story. So, everything rattling around in our heads is not just garbage...sometimes it becomes worthy of adding to a story.
    Thanks! Love your comment.

  5. Celia, hooray and congratulations that this story is so good for you.

    I hate when people tell me they have a "great idea" for a story. I want to tell them to go write it, but I don't. I listen politely, but I've never once heard an idea that has a book in it. Like you, I've had some of my books come to me on road trips.

  6. Great post Celia. I've found the spark of an idea is my part in the whole thing. My characters take over and write their own story. :)

  7. You're right that an idea is like a seed. If an idea stays with me, then eventually my mind will start to say 'What if ...?' To continue the analogy, that question seems to be the equivalent of the first roots growing from the seed. I've just started a new novel that began like this. I can't see the whole plant yet, but I'm exploring the roots right now!

  8. Caroline--yes, we always listen politely, don't we. It doesn't happen often, but sometimes a person becomes greatly enamored with his own voice.
    And thanks about the book--I'm happy.

  9. Lisa--I'd heard that quote, but didn't know who said it. Glad I ran across it--for yes, it can often be true--we sweat blood over a story.

  10. Rose--exactly--we must have that spark. I think my of my brain as lazy when I don't have any of those sparks...then when it happens, I become energized.
    Thanks for you comment!

  11. Paula--using a plant as an analogy is really good. We might think of just the stem and leaves sprouting--but without a firm, sound foundation--roots--the story will certainly wither and die.
    You always have such enlightening comments..thanks a bunch.