March 29th, 2016


Writing Excuses 11.13: Elemental Idea Q&A

Writing Excuses 11.13: Elemental Idea Q&A


 Q&A Summary:
Q: How do you keep obstacles in an idea story from feeling just like a boring lock that's waiting for the idea to unlock?
A: Good ideas for books are magnet ideas, that attract more and more ideas.
Q: I have a great idea for a story, but I'm not sure how to tie my character motivation to it. Any advice on how to connect characters to a great idea?
A: Start with the geewhiz idea. Figure out where it takes place. Then look at the character and question all the MICE possibilities. Brainstorm them all. What about the environment could cuase problems? What do they wonder about the idea? What challenges their self-image about the idea? What could go wrong? Finally, consider what motivates the character, and what's at stake, what will they lose if they fail?
Q: You've got an idea, but you're struggling to really flesh it out and dig deeply into it. My biggest fear is that I will do this idea, but I won't extrapolate far enough, and the reader will just feel that it's full of untapped potential. What advice do you have for a writer?
A: If the story is good and engaging, untapped potential is a feature! That's for the next book. But in short stories, readers expect you to leave things out, while in novels, they may assume you hadn't thought about it and missed it. If it fascinates you, let it grow and see where it goes. Brainstorm, especially why and what is the effect. Is it a dragon with a magic sword or a monkey with a propeller hat? Sometimes you have to keep reading, keep writing, and keep living until you can write what you want to write. Trust yourself.
Q: Is it possible to make every idea story viable, or are there just some that you have to give up on?
A: Sometimes an idea is problematic and damaging. But some people never give up on one, because if they give up on one, they will give up on them all. Sometimes you're not ready to make an idea work. If it doesn't seem viable, maybe the story is flawed. Go back to the beginning and think about it again.
Q: How do you avoid using too many ideas at once? Is there such a thing as idea clutter in an idea story?
A: Not too many ideas. You can have the wrong ideas. Beware the gorilla in the phone booth, a throwaway line that is cooler than what the character is focused on. Watch for too many ideas for the length of the story you are telling. Don't hold back on your cool ideas, you will not run out of them.

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[Brandon] I'm afraid that we are out of time. Unfortunately, I'm sorry that we didn't get to all your questions. Mary has some homework for us.
[Mary] All right. So last week, Nancy gave us a homework assignment in which you were supposed to brainstorm about 20 different ideas. What I want you to do is I want you to pick your favorite of those ideas. Take that idea and then start thinking about consequences and reasons. I want you to basically look at it and go what-if and why. I want you to work in opposite directions. So I want you to go why as far back... I want you to go back 10 steps of why. And I want you to go forward 10 steps of what-if.
[Brandon] Maybe go back last year and listen to the podcast we did on brainstorming during Season 10's Master Class. Thank you so much, Shannon, for joining us.
[Shannon] My pleasure.
[Brandon] Thank you to the audience here at Life, the Universe, and Everything.
[Whoo! Applause and whistles.]
[Brandon] This has been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses, now go write.