I can't tell you how many ideas I often come up with that go no where. How do you turn an idea into a story? I know that it's part creativity/imagination, but is there a specific progressive process that one can use to move pass the idea?
I hope the question is not too general.
Lillian, this is a great question--but it probably doesn't have a simple answer. I'll give you a bit of a story that will eventually make its way toward what I hope is an answer for you.
When I was teaching high school, one of the things that I needed to be aware of was that my students all had different learning styles. The theory of Multiple Intelligences was a bit of a buzzword, especially in the decade or so before I retired: that theory states that every child has his or her own individual way of learning well. Some children are visual learners; they learn best when they see something demonstrated for them. Others are auditory learners who learn better when material is read to them or explained out loud. Still others are kinesthetic learners; they learn best by doing. And there are many other kinds of intelligence and learning styles--and combinations of them all. My challenge was to figure out my students' learning styles and to present the material in such a way that each student had the best chance of grasping it.
Similarly, I think each writer has his or her own style of "doing" the writing process. When my daughters were in school, they were both frustrated to no end by something called "The Writing Process" that was making its way through the curriculum. "The Writing Process" required students to plan out everything they wrote, to outline it or otherwise diagram it into some sort of graphic or visual aid before actually starting to write. They were both gifted students and good writers, but this was not their style of writing, and they hated it.
I'm sure you can see what I'm getting at. I could tell you (and I will) what writing process worked for me, but that might be something that's totally at odds with the best writing process for you. So the cop-out answer (for me) is "I can't answer that--you have to find what works for you."
Nevertheless, I'll give you a few suggestions; maybe one of them will resonate with you.
Here's what I did when I was writing for the challenge and when I was blogging: I just wrote
. Even if I had no idea where the story was going--if I had something
(a character, a setting, a conflict, even just an object), I went with it. For me, writing is a physical act as well as a mental exercise, and I just started putting words on paper, even if I had no idea where they were going to take me. Almost every time, after 100 words or so, a story started to form. And if I ended up going in an unanticipated direction and ditching those first few paragraphs, that was fine. Oh, and up until the last year or so, I wrote my stories on paper, with a pencil. Something about the physical act of actually writing
stimulated my creativity.
Some people just can't write that way, though. They'd say, "How can I start writing when I don't know what to write?" Those are the people who would have loved "The Writing Process" that so upset my daughters in school. So I'd suggest something like that for them. Perhaps filling out a form like the one below will help to get the creativity flowing. And it wouldn't be necessary to fill out the entire
form, but perhaps filling out some
of it would be enough to break up the writers' block.
This is an adaptation of something I called a "story map" when I was teaching:CHARACTERS:
(who is the protagonist? who is the antagonist?)
(time and place)
(man vs. man/nature/self/society/supernatural)
(what's the take-away for the reader?)
(what will happen in the earliest paragraphs to introduce the conflict?)
(what will happen to develop the conflict?)
(what will be the turning point, the point of no return, the most important event that leads toward the resolution of the conflict?)
(what happens as a result of the climax?)
(how is the conflict finally resolved?)
Notice that the key here is conflict
--if you have an idea for a story and there is no conflict, there's really no story.
People who are systematic, organized writers might enjoy filling out a form such as this before they start to write; it might help the story to take form before the actual writing begins.
Finally, another kind of writer might do well with a sort of brainstorming. This is also a pencil-and-paper task. If your germ of an idea is a person, write something describing that person in the middle of a sheet of paper: perhaps "aging hippie" or "buck-toothed piccolo player". Circle that, then make a number of rays extending from the circle. Those rays become branches where you can write other words or phrases that come to mind: from the word aging
you might write arthritis, gray hair, grandparent
, and from hippie
you might write 1960s, peace symbol, drugs
. Any one of those words might send you off on a different branch--perhaps from 1960s
you might write Beatles, JFK assassination, moon landing
, and a story starts to form. You'll write about a person who was in grade school on the day of the JFK assassination, and who tries to explain that life-changing experience to her own granddaughter.
Of course, you might branch out several times, in several directions, before something starts to make sense.
I'd be interested to know if any other readers of this column have "writing process" stories that you could share with Lillian (and with me). What gets you past writers' block? What process do you go through when you start to write? Are there any things that you always do, or items or places or other things (music? a particular chair? time of day?) that always work for you?
Lillian, did I answer your question?