Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ideas Vs Story

I am reading through Bob Mayer's book on novel writing, and getting a lot out of it. In some ways it is a much more nuts and bolts book than other ones I've read recently. He also took the rather unique approach of writing the book over the course of about fifteen years, so a side range of perspective is evident. really good read, highly recommended.

One of the concepts I have picked up is the difference between an idea and a story. Read the book for the full scoop, but the gist is that an idea is a one sentence summary of the core of the book, that must at all costs be maintained. What if an omnipotent being created the universe from scratch - an idea. Genesis - a story. That one idea could generate many different stories, but none of the stories could be summed up as anything other than the one idea.

One of the ways this concept affects me is that I am now applying it to every entry in my idea bank. It goes like this - I have a flash of genius (or something else), I write it down as concisely as possible, in one sentence. Then I start revising that idea to be as interesting as possible, then I start brainstorming the story. The first step is different form my old one, which was - write down the idea, higgledy piggledy. The middle step, enabled by the first step, is brand new.

And no, I am not afraid to use phrases like higgledy piggledy, if I need them to get my point across.

An example -

Idea - What if an office worker was driven mad by her spreadsheet.

Refinement - What if the elder gods used office software to mentally enslave a junior accountant?

The Story - The Elder Spreadsheet - The protagonist, a junior accountant, isn't climbing the corporate rungs fast enough to suit her ambitions. Her weird friend from high school is having great success with an import/export business. They have lunch, the friend suggests using an occult self-help book, which in turn leads to online discussions and eventually a website. The protagonist downloads office productivity software, which she installs on her work computer. It mimics her regular software. She begins to succeed, wildly, but also has strange events and nightmares, etc. Eventually she is a mindless drone, as is the rest of her company. She ends up the CFO, and her weird friend is the new CEO. Her company begins producing and selling the software, worldwide.

I am sure there are a lot of other ways this same idea could be developed into a story. I like this one enough that it is likely going to be the next short that I write, though. Easy peasy, huh?

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