The Germination of a Story

Chapters edited: 5
Scenes edited: 16
Words murdered: 1,320 (6.5% - either I'm getting lazy or my writing got better after chapter 4)

Times Hagai nearly dies: 3
Times Hagai puts his foot in his mouth: 3
Times Sam gets in a fight: 1

Ideas are cheap. They're everywhere, but they're not enough to make a story. They need to mix, ripen, maybe bake (dang, now I'm hungry). The path from idea to story can be a long one. I want to show you what the path has looked like for me so far with Joey Stone.

It started because I wanted to write a school story with fantasy/spy/ninja elements, a la Naruto. A friend asked me to write a short story for her, so I fleshed out the idea with some psionic rules I'd made for an e-RPG, created a skeleton world (near future), and put some characters in it. I squeezed out a mediocre short story called Joey Stone.

I liked the characters and the powers, but there was nothing to the world and no story big enough yet for a novel (besides which, I was still writing Travelers), so I let it sit for a while.

Last summer, I watched Witch Hunter Robin and really liked the idea of using psions to hunt other psions. I also liked the connotations of "witches" better than "psions." I got that feeling again when I read the back of Marie Brennan's Doppleganger and mistakenly thought it was urban fantasy instead of the regular kind. Something about modern day witch hunters appeals to me, obviously.

A few months ago, I had a dream about a group of people who required technology to use their powers. One of their enemies discovered how to cancel out their technology. They were left powerless, until a young man was born among them who could use his powers without artificial aid, and he taught them how to do it themselves. This dream, combined with actually reading Doppleganger, got me thinking about the society of these "witches" and what it would have to be like for them to survive and stay hidden.

At this point, all these ideas were mixing together in my mind. The world was starting to take shape. I started thinking how to set the story at least partially in Thailand. I wanted to give the story a unique flavor and write what I know, but at the same time not seem too gimmicky (e.g. "It's X-Men in Thailand!").

But I still didn't have a story.

The other day I saw Babylon A.D.* It was okay, but I loved some of the future/tech ideas. It got me thinking about an America that's very hard to get into (hm, just like real life), and the story idea got stronger:

A Thai village girl discovers she has special powers. She is hunted for them, trying to understand them herself. She is rescued by a woman named Charity who explains the girl is one of the Cunning - people with extraordinary powers - and that there are those who would like to see all the Cunning Folk burn. Together, they fight their way into America where the girl will be safe, she hopes.

It needs a lot of work, and I'm not 100% certain I like it yet, but it doesn't matter. The idea is there, germinating, ripening, waiting for the next idea to hit my brain pan and make it better than it was. I have two more Air Pirates stories to write first, so there's plenty of time. Probably by the time I get to drafting Joey Stone, it'll be entirely different. Again.

What about you? Where do you get ideas, and how do you make them into a story?

* You'll notice I often steal ideas from other stories. There's nothing wrong with this, so long as you're not lazy about it. Steal what you like and make it your own. Amateurs imitate. Professionals steal.


Natalie Whipple said...

My stories usually hit me as characters first—their story comes from that as I ask them questions.

For ninjas, it went kind of like this, "What if there was a nerd kid who really was a ninja instead of just pretending he was?" Tosh was born, and I started asking him questions about the world he lived in. We got to that crush on the hot cheerleader...and off it went.

For Void, it was "What would it be like to be born to a family of wizards, but you didn't have magic?" Out came Coral.

I guess that's just how I roll.

MattyDub said...

I'm 100% ok with stealing from other authors. But that means you have to be doubly-careful about what you're reading. Remember Sturgeon's 2nd law, and look for the 10%. Don't tolerate the other stuff.

Adam Heine said...

Natalie: That's a great way to do it. My characters often come later (which is why some of my characters are lame - I'm working on that).

Actually, I'm now thinking it's the inciting incident that gets me excited about a story. Something big happens, I run with it for a few chapters, then realize I have no idea how the rest of the story goes. (And this is why I like my beginnings and hate my endings - also working on that).

Matt: It's true. I often find myself writing like what I read. I read crappy commercial fiction and suddenly think "As you know, Bob" dialogue is okay. I read Pratchett, and suddenly my scary villains are being funny. I do have to be careful.