Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself. – Doris Lessing

Go forth into the unknown, explore the caves of your unconscious, fear not your “dark side,” find the gold.

— Robin Hoffman (@AuthorAlchemy)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Incubating a Story

EXCEPT WHEN I'M using my own writing prompts, I usually start writing after a story has already started to filter (or flood) into my mind.

This was very true when I wrote my book, but has only sometimes been true about screenwriting.

For my first script, the story came to me as a huge download after I looked at the cover of a book with a picture of a steam train on it.

For my five treatments, it was a mixed bag of approaches: one was a story that just came to me, another is based on real-life events, another was created from a two-word “high concept” title I coined from a funny situation with Brian, and one was a story created from a spiritual/metaphysical concept I want to write about using the sci-fi/fantasy genre.

The fifth treatment is based on a story from my book that Brian has long been telling me just begs to be adapted as a script. Strangely, that's the only one I've struggled with and the only treatment that remains unfinished. The one that was a completed and published short story before it was ever an idea for a screenplay.

Today is 10K Day over at my Fear of Writing blog and I'm working on a brand-new script idea. So far, I'd call the process “hopefully percolating a story idea.” I started with purely a concept (albeit one I know a lot about and have a great passion for) and now I'm feeling my way into this.

For part of my 10K Day writing, I turned on my Dragon dictation software to brainstorm out loud, hoping that the act of talking myself through it would help locate my story.

I started by expressing all the background blah-blah-blah about why I want to write a script using this concept, etc. etc., just to get that out of the way. Then I did some quick research online, looking for a relevant definition, and along the way I picked up a few other snippets of info that will help.

Then it was time for the magic to come. You know, the story. I had prepared myself for the brainstorm in ways that should have worked . . . but they didn't. I ended up with eight short paragraphs of “what I know so far” plus three ideas for themes or scenarios that can help flesh out the story.

But still no characters popping out the mist, no shreds of dialogue, no “and then this happened” momentum. I started feeling drained and decided that sometimes even the coolest methods for writing don't work because you're not quite ready.

I ended my brainstorming session by telling Dragon to type this:

Even though this was not the story or story-fragment brainstorming session I was hoping for, I know I've primed my subconscious mind with some good material. Perhaps I just need to allow it to percolate.

Sometimes chronicling what doesn't seem to work can be interesting. I often look back and see it worked better than I thought it did. Here's hoping. . . .

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Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Milliver's Travels and the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer's Muse Coaching Service.

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