Monday, July 22, 2013

Thinking in themes: An exercise

For creative people, ideas are typically easy to come by. We can't really even function unless we're finagling a story out of something, right? Come across a bizarre looking place? That's a story idea! Bump into a kooky character at the supermarket? Story idea! Lid on the mayonnaise on so tight you need the Jaws of Life? Story idea right there. But I'm preaching to the choir here. We all know that as writers, our minds are treasure troves of ideas. Some golden nuggets, others lumps of coal. The problem we all share--the very bane of our existence--is of course, what the heck do you do with those ideas? How do you mine all those nuggets and lumps into great stories?

Now, once in a while that one idea comes along that basically just writes itself, but very few of us ever get so lucky. Those are diamonds in the rough. Nine times out of ten, an idea has to be worked at--cultivated. That, my fellow YAtopians, as we all know, is a pain-staking process. It is the root cause of many cases of the dreaded writer's block. It's caused me to turn my back on many ideas, as I'm sure it has you. So what can we do about it?

The answers are both numerous and few and far between. There are a gazillion writing exercises that you could try, but the ones that work for any given writer are much fewer. I was talking with a colleague of mine a few days ago, a wise sort of fellow who marveled me with his insight. He described to me the way he cultivates ideas in order to avoid writer's block. The way he does it is to take his original idea--at its most basic, whether an image or a situation or a concept--and to form a running theme out of it. How does he do that, you ask? Well, he thinks of various things that the idea might be represented by. In other words, he treats the idea like a living, breathing entity and goes about describing it in (seemingly) unconventional ways.

I'll try an example. Let's say we're writing a story about the trials and tribulations of writer's block. What we're going to do is figure out five representations of that idea. Like so:

What colour represents the idea?
I'm going to say grey. Nothing is happening. My mood is sombre.

What smell represents the idea?
Since I don't drink coffee, I'm going to say cookies-- sugar is my caffeine. Oh, and they gotta be from Tim Hortons.

What weather represents the idea?
Overcast. Gloomy, dark, dull and no end to it in sight. Little chance of rain, either. It's a lull.

What animal represents the idea?
Turtle. The process is painfully slow-moving and hard to crack. 

What landform represents the idea?
A canyon. Maybe even the Grand Canyon. When you've fallen in it, it feels like you're never going to get out.

So, there you have it! Fun, eh? You can obviously do more than five. In fact, you can probably go on and on until you've had enough. What this exercise does is gets you thinking about some unifying themes in your potential story. Of course you won't use them all; in fact, only a couple will likely see your final edit. But it does get the creative juices flowing, and best of all, it kickstarts the process of idea cultivation.

Let's see what I got for my writer's block story... well, from my answers, I have a story with the unifying theme of a slow, painful, inescapable, experience with dark, gloomy, dull imagery that may or may not be made worse by cookies.

Not bad! Give it a try in the comment section below!

1 comment:

  1. Whenever I see a post from you come up, I'm pretty much like this:, Mr. Greenspan. :)