The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Plotting Something Nasty

Posted by BigWords on July 31, 2009

The Idea

We have to start with ideas, ’cause that is where stories begin. The embryonic novels, stuck between thought and existence, come out either fully-formed and healthy, or they’re in a poor shape and need nursed back to health. There have been some bastard-clever and very impressive explanations of inspiration across the bloggity-blogs lately, and I’m going to jump in with my own experiences.

There are different ways I get my inspiration, and even though I am (overly?) fond of Stephen King’s metaphor of the Muse shitting on me from a great height, I put in the work. I read a lot, so I take ideas or fragmented thoughts from there. Sometimes I drift off into my own little world, and sometimes it is the mundanities of the trudge across The Wasteland Dunfermline which provides me with a story or two. It doesn’t really matter where fiction appears from, and it is, in any case, irrelevant. The end result is all that matters.

At the weekend I was out drinking, and as I held the beer bottle up a shaft of light caught the bubbles floating to the the surface. BANG! I’m off on a train of thought, free-associating, crossing idea off and mixing alcohol-fuelled “whatifthey” mutterings with one eye out for a narrative. I come up with the strange idea of bubbles of reality slipping free from the surface of a membrane multiverse (Brain Theory For Dummies). It will annoy the hard-line SFers, but that is what ideas do… They appear out of nowhere.

If I could come up with a way to make sure I had a constant stream of ideas, or at least ration out my ideas for the lean periods, I would be soooo much happier. As it is, I keep coming up with new ideas when I’m meant to be getting on with the ones I’ve already started. I’m not going to stop writing them down, because I’m terrified I’ll forget a really good one, and that might be the one which breaks me out of the slush pile.

A ten-minute wait outside a retirement home was what gave me the idea for a Death Wish Meets Cocoon story, where the residents take up arms against a gang of thugs. I sat and watched the comings and goings and the story appeared. The Muse likes to torment me with concepts I know I can’t do justice to. I hate her, and she responds by throwing more high concept pitches at me like Joe Eszterhas at the feet of Bobby Evans…

But once the idea are in the can (or on paper) it is a whole other story. That is the time when I gold-plate and polish those turds into something less annoyingly stupid. It doesn’t help that I am run ragged with so many other commitments, and the polishing sometimes reveals the shit underneath, but that is half the fun… Whenever I read people complaining that they can’t get an idea, I get annoyed at the constant stream of half-formed concepts which I am bombarded with. Maybe I’m alone. Maybe I’m the only one seeing the possibilities that present themselves.

People have a tendency to look to books for answers when they can’t make stuff up. “What’s the proper answer?” “Why do I need…” NO! Stop it. Please. Fuck the How To’s. They interrupt the flow of the pure idea and confuse the beginner writer so that whatever comes out all sounds the same. Going with the gut instinct that leads to (1) character, (2) plot and (3) story is the only way to work out problems. And yet the writing world still fools people into believing that great novels can only be written once dark ceremonies have been performed, and incantations made.

There is no magic. There are no tricks.

“Oh mighty Mithras, slayer of wrestling dwarves and eater of babies, please bestow upon me great thoughts… And, uh… If you don’t mind, please make me rich.” The three candles are then lit in ceremonial fashion.

Gut instinct has to be balanced, and this is where I pay real attention. Does the flow of the story hinder the plot? Is the character served by the story? Is the plot right for the character? There are other flavors needed for a tasty mix, but those are the essential ingredients.

Strange how everything always tastes like chicken when I’m done…


2 Responses to “Plotting Something Nasty”

  1. chadoates said

    Good point, you never know when an idea will strike you and at times I’ve noticed that in spite of what seems like a great story there isn’t enough of it to make even a short story! Great article!

  2. bigwords88 said

    I’m pissed off with myself for interrupting the WIPs so that I can pay attention to the short stories and analecta. I know I should be knuckling down at this point in the process, but I can’t ignore the new ideas.

    A useful way to see short stories, and one which has served many published authors, is to use the shorts as previews -or “dry runs” – for the longer fiction. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is thrown away.

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