Many readers and writers are fascinated by the creative process and seek to understand how stories are created. For me, there’s no right or wrong way. Stories come from everywhere, and in the early stages, I like to explore every idea I have and then sort through the ones I believe might work.
I knew a few things when I began brainstorming the Doc Harrison series. I wanted to write for young adults and have the story veer more toward science fantasy than hard science fiction. I wanted my narrator to be sixteen. I wanted the major setting to be an alien world that had suffered an apocalypse. I was working against the popular idea to place a heroine in a dystopian future Earth where she hates her life, falls in love, and does battle against the evil forces of the government. I thought exploring the ruins of an alien world might be different, fun, and dramatic. I knew that even with a male lead I could still have engaging female characters who never take a backseat to the hero or the plot. Julie, Meeka, Steffanie, and many others you’ll meet (or have met) along our journey are “take charge” characters whose sacrifices and achievements inspire Doc to reach new heights as a young man. They become much more than just his friends and in most respects are as strong as if not stronger than Doc or any other characters.
So… with a framework of genre, audience, and setting in mind, I began thinking more about individual moments… “cool scenes” if you will. I thought about confrontations between the characters and the big battles, showdowns, and escapes I’d need to properly convey the story, which often begins with a statement made popular by author and writing professor Janet Burroway:
Drama = Danger + Desire
What does the character want (desire)? And what stands in the way (danger)?
Writing a sentence in which you state these things allows you to better shape your overall idea. This is the story of X who wants Y but Z stands in the way. However, even with this simple foundation in place, you must keep brainstorming!
After some long afternoons of banging my head against the wall (not literally, well, maybe once, LOL), I did discover some fun ideas for scenes, but I had no idea how they fit together. That was okay. Again, I was just trying to let my thoughts run free in an attempt to capture less predictable or cliche moments. Sometimes those are unavoidable, but as writers of fantastic stories we try to keep our stories, well, fantastic! So we must think harder about how characters will resolve problems. Many of the first ideas you have will be cliches influenced by your experiences watching films and television shows.
In the past, many of my books relied upon extensive outlines. The Secret Corps, my military thriller novel, began with a sixty-five page outline! Admittedly, I wanted to give myself a lot more freedom with the Doc Harrison series and let the characters tell me what to do. After you live in these people’s heads for a while, trust me, they DO begin speaking to you! I know this sounds crazy, but it’s true. Many of the scenes were “unscripted” or written without an outline. I usually have some notion of the what the big climax might be, but I don’t know exactly how I’ll get there–so the book is as exciting for me to write as it is for you to read. I love surprises, too!
If you’re working on your own project, you might consider writing down as many ideas as you have. The photo at the top includes notes and “thought bubbles” that I used while brainstorming the second book in the series. Ask yourself questions. How does this scene move the story forward? How will they escape from this place if they get captured? What is the most clever or surprising way to have them escape? Consider remote associations to make interesting and unusual connections between characters and events. Unlikely combinations of things become more interesting. It’s not just a fire breathing dragon but an insecure, obsessive-compulsive dragon with a guilt complex over breathing fire, LOL!
After that, begin to think about “cool” or milestone scenes (you can do some research on Syd Field‘s screenplay paradigm for more ideas regarding milestones or “plot points”). Of course, do some writing to see if the book begins speaking to you. Strong ideas create other strong ideas, and once that happens, you’re in the creative zone and nothing can stop you!
Anyway, I hope you’ve found my experiences insightful and helpful. I’d love to hear about your own. Is there something you do that’s particularly unusual or fascinating to brainstorm new projects? Let me know! And please do share this site with your friends and check out the novels before returning to reality. No sense in rushing to get back there, right? 🙂