Love at first sight.
It’s a given that people who are looking to fall in love will look at the first one that comes along, hoping he or she is the one. Why? Because then there’s no need to look further. No need to make choices. No need to second-guess. Some folks end up with the first person they meet – the high school sweetheart, the teen crush. Sometimes those matches work out. But a lot of times they don’t. And when they don’t, it’s hard to look back with regret at years spent with what turns out to have been the wrong person and judge that investment of time – of life – as a wrong turn, a waste.
Authors face a similar situation when they are tempted to take the first idea that pops into their head and flesh it into a story without first testing it to see if they have the right fit for plot and characters and theme. If they don’t think about it, they will dive in and invest a lot of time and work to develop what oftentimes turns out to be a bad idea. Bad because it’s hard to make believable. Bad because it just doesn’t make sense. Bad because it turns what could otherwise be good writing into a book that stalls or doesn’t gel – a book readers won’t want to read. How can authors avoid this writing heartache?
Try a little story speed-dating.
Set up the room and invite your participants. First, prepare the setup for your story speed-dating convention. Invite all your ideas and whispers of unique characters to come together in one room – a brainstorming computer file or a notepad page reserved for writing down random ideas. Got a multitude of ideas, maybe some of them with similar themes? Great, you’re ahead of the game. Authors who don’t have any story ideas will be staring at a blank screen/page, so they’ll have to do a little more background work before holding their story speed-dating convention. But in any case, type some makeshift headers on your word-processing document page or write them on your notebook page, leaving enough area below each header to add some detail lines. Headers should be
whatever you fancy, but to start out should be something like…
Plot Lines / Story Ideas … etc.
People / Characters / Players …
Setting / Situation / Place …
Book Titles / Title Words
The last heading, ‘Book Titles’ may be a little ahead of the game, but it will come into play once you start finding potential match-ups among your various other idea categories.
Start writing down appropriate entries under each header.
Or, to get some random ideas that appeal to your interests, peruse news
stories. Ideas will pop out as likely suspects. People who want to write about
animals in their stories will grab ideas from stories that feature stuff like
‘mule saves rider by killing mountain lion,’ or ‘housecat makes alligator back
down,’ or ‘dog rescues owner by dialing 9-1-1,’ or ‘parrot foils home-invasion
by imitating police siren.’ Other storylines about movie stars, serial killers,
people involved in oddball situations like ghost-hunting, or long-lost love
reunited will appeal to authors based on what their innate interests are. So
take a little time and jot down typical ideas that you find of interest to you
If characters start popping into your head, write a few sentences to describe their background or key elements that made you think of them in the first place. It may be as simple as a clever or weird name. But
write it down.
Let the speed-dating
Once you have all your story and character and incidental ideas together in one ‘room,’ reserve a separate ‘room’ (another page) to detail each potential match-up of your various story components categorized under the
headings above. Now you are ready to guide the interaction of all these story components you’ve assembled.
Try copying two or three different elements together in a mix-and match style to see how they fit. OK! You’ve got your first speed-dating participants together…
Plot – Man meets
woman who claims her dog is psychic.
Character – Joe
Evermore is a man unlucky in love. He’s dated many seemingly wonderful women
over the years, but none of those relationships lasted, and he hasn’t figured
out exactly why.
Saint-Tropez, French Riviera
The first thing to do is to look at how the various aspects of your story components fit together. The first listing, a plotline where a man meets a woman who claims her dog is psychic has a lot of potential for humor and psychological twists. You like it. (Of course you do, because you want to write romantic comedy and love dogs – what better combination could you come up with?)
Next you look at your potential character ‘Joe Evermore.’
You think his name could somehow be worked into the title of a book, like ‘Looking for Love Evermore’ or something like that. This is an encouraging development, especially since Joe is unlucky in love. You write down the title under your ‘Titles’ heading, and jot it down for this story combo too.
You haven’t yet worked out the details of why Joe is unlucky in love, but given the fact that he’s just met a woman who claims her dog is psychic, you’ve got a pretty good idea now. He gravitates toward women who possess some kind of weird
quirk that makes a real relationship impossible to maintain. If you stick with Joe as a main character in this romantic/psychotic romp, you will have to work
out some reason why he always gravitates toward woman with whom he can’t stay in a romantic relationship. Maybe he’s got commitment problems because his mother was a bit ‘off’ and drove his father away when Joe was young. But that remains to be seen. Remember, you’re just trying out these various ideas together to see if they have potential.
Last, you take a look at the setting you’ve chosen at random to match up with your plot and character. You chose the scenic seaside resort town Saint-Tropez for this first speed-dating match because you’ve always wanted to visit the celebrity playground of the French Riviera. Plus it has rich historical significance as the first in the coastal area to be liberated from German occupation in World War II. And it’s where 60s sex-symbol actress Bridgette Bardot was discovered. But then you start thinking about the logistics of a woman with a supposedly psychic dog, and a man unlucky in love visiting the jet-setter French Riviera – plus the fact that you’ve never been there, and you
don’t know much about it. So you scrap it for this potential match-up.
However, you do like all the rest of what you’ve come up with for a potential story, and so you copy that part of the scenario to another page so you can save it for further consideration as a viable story.
Keep going. Mix and match all the rest of your various component stories. Don’t worry about whether or not they appear to be good matches. Sometimes the most unlikely
match creates the most inventive story that’s so unique, it could break into the market and become a winner.
Once you’ve looked at everything you’ve got and have
eliminated the obvious non-workable scenarios, you’ll find yourself rich with ideas for stories. So rich, in fact, you’ll be wondering which one to start on first. Just don’t make the mistake of trying to write them all at the same time. Choose one and focus on developing it to its full potential, then move on to the next. Step by step, story by story, you’ll build a body of work that hopefully will be well thought out and well developed so your readers will be flocking to buy your books.