Anatomy of an Idea

Aug 9, 17:54 by IROSF
A thread to discuss the origins of ideas, or Jay and Ruth's consideration of the topic.

The article can be found here.
Aug 22, 15:06 by Joe Prisco
It's nice to see this issue addressed, if at rather formidable length. The question itself, I think, bears some examination; I doubt that G. B. Shaw would have asked this of [say] James Joyce, if they ever met. Still, for those who burn to answer "What do you do?" with the words "I am an author", it can't hurt to have some suggestions.

As to the dodgier question of "What is science fiction?", we needn't really worry; science fiction is very close to being one of the mythologies of our present culture. Look into any future scientific or technological change you think possible -- good or bad -- and you can hardly miss; as children of this culture, we embody its subconscious, and our fictional future sciences reflects our fears and hopes of the present.

Meanwhile, of course, the best way to develop the creative mind is to be creative, evidenced by studies which show the main difference between creative and noncreative people is that the creative ones think they are creative. We can form lists of ways story ideas are born -- e.g., using existing work to write sequels or alternate perspective; keeping dream journals; watching people in public and inventing stories for them -- but the fact is that, as Jay points out, practically anything might prompt a story idea.

What he doesn't say is the second part, the crucial part: anything, indeed, might prompt a story idea in the prepared mind. In our goal-oriented culture, we see the result and wish it without the process from which it naturally grows; we want the flower, but are impatient with horticulture. This is the essence of Scott Fitzgerald's comment about American lives not having a second act (the middle portion of a story, in which the drama is developed and complicated).

It's a big leap from the excitement of reading creative work to writing some yourself; the enthusiasm of the one doesn't have much to do with ability of the other. It takes work. In this way, writing is much like any other craft. Like meat-cutting or bricklaying, it helps to know what you are trying to do, and why. "Raiders of the Lost Ark" sought only to excite, and so the inventiveness went into the details of exactly which dangers Indiana Jones enocuntered & how; "A Canticle for Leibowitz" had a much more subtle message, and its author therefore envisioned a more subtle presentation. Both have their reasons, and follow them well; both were authored with a clear intent which dictated what kinds of story elements would be useful and which would not.

After reading several guides to writing, the things that stayed most in my mind were:

1. Omit unnecessary words (Strunk & White's "Elements of Style")
2. Dialogue should advance the plot (Robert Silverberg's "Writing 101" -- where he admits the obviousness of this)
3. Have a strong first sentence (for examples: "The Ten Best Opening Lines by Harlan Ellison" in "The SF Book of Lists")

As with anything else: practice, practice, practice. And steal (oops, I meant "borrow") other people's plots until you think of one of your own ;-)

   

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