One of the most challenging things about writing is creating ideas. Or, to be specific, developing ideas. It’s quite easy to create an idea, which I’ll discuss in next posts. But the problem of developing is about what happens in the middle.
Usually someone knows how a story starts or ends. When you know what happens in the middle, is, probably, just a scene (at least for me) Maybe instead of a scene is a character, a dialogue or an action. But I can’t conceive someone who has the middle figured out. I should state that when I say “the middle” is what happens between cool stuff we have already ideas for.
Lost, the TV show, had a great starting idea, and good middle ideas, but, with time, they became stagnant. Bizarre. Is like cooking. We can come up with great ideas, or follow recipes for awesome meals. But we need to take in account the “middle” This means having something in the oven for 30 minutes. What do we do in those 30 minutes? We need that time, but we can’t do anything with what’s inside.
Writing the middle parts are quite annoying. What happens between scene and scene that is not worth telling? Travelling, perhaps, or a normal day, working in the office, etc… Of course we can have interesting stories about that. I want to state that, sometimes, is hard stuffing the story with bland actions, just because we don’t know what to do, or we need exposition for a crescendo or cliffhanger.
Developing ideas is sometimes easy. When you feel inspired, ideas start flowing. But we need to be careful. When you have a ton of ideas, some of them will be bad, even awful. And in that state everything (usually) sounds cool. Maybe have a super laser is cool, but maybe they would’ve used it to defeat the space villain instead of what you wanted, like a fist fight or a duel with space swords.
So, there are several ways of developing an idea that I use:
- Create a timeline, and decide what is worth telling and what not. If there’s something not worth but you HAVE to write it down, make it as shortest as possible.
- Be cruel. With a “pool” of stagnant ideas, the best thing is to walk away and start fresh. Maybe those old ideas are way too safe. Be a sadist (as Kurt Vonnegut said) Make them suffer something: loss of a loved one, a disease or wound, losing their job. That’s when interesting thing happens: when we see the true colors of humanity.
- Kill a character. Now, this is beyond the “be a sadist” Don’t make it free, like the best friend slips and falls, hitting his/her head against the pavement. Cancer or some sort of crippling illness.
- If your protagonist does stuff in the beginning, but nothing in the middle or end of the book/story, you are breaking the most important rule: characters have to be proactive. When you don’t know how to develop an idea, that may mean that a character or a group of characters aren’t doing stuff.
- And last, a simple trick (with a caveat). Let’s take WW2. Lots of stories. How to develop an idea (like, an american prisoner in a concentration camp with jewish people, gypsies, communists and/or homosexuals) There millions of interactions. Take the most surprising one. Think about something. Is that what everyone would want to see/read? Then, do something else. Change it. Instead of fighting for their freedom, the american is a coward and flees the camp without helping people. Well, that might be possible. Then, do something else. Love between a german soldier and a prisoner? Brothers from different countries? That’s the “caveat” You need to bombard the development with ideas, the wildest the better. Make them different.