Hey hey everybody, nice to see you, glad you could come out. Drinks are in the back,be sure to tip your waitress, she works hard for the money.
I’m James R. Tuck, author of the Deacon Chalk series from Kensington, and I’m the new guy.
I’ve been here before. Faith has been ever so kind to me and allowed me to guest post here when my series launched. I’ve lurked the comments and the posts also because this place rocks. But now, NOW, they’ve given me a key and let me hang my hat.
Muwah ha ha.
Today I’m going to talk to you about story ideas. Not where you get them, if you’re a writer then you have ideas falling out of your pockets when you sit down, but where you get good ideas. You know the ideas, the ones that make you smack yourself for not thinking of it first. An idea so terrific that it seems obvious when you hear it and has no chance to do anything but be awesome.
An idea like setting an urban fantasy in the time of the American Revolution (Thieftaker by David B. Co . . . excuse me, D. B. Jackson), giving your shapeshifter main character’s animal form its own own motivations and desires (the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter), or giving a redneck a big ole’ gun and letting him hunt monsters (the Bubba The Monster Hunter series by John Hartness).
All these examples have the TWIST.
The Twist is the thing that gives the story idea a hum, an electricity. It takes the basic idea that has been done to death and makes it sing. You get it by looking at things in a new way. Let’s go through my examples above and I’ll show you three ways of looking at your story idea to give them a zing.
Setting: How many occult detectives are in urban fantasy? A lot. Heck, I write one of sorts. Some stand out, a lot of them don’t. By taking the concept of the occult detective and putting it in a new, different setting, one you haven’t found an occult detective in before, David B. Co . . . excuse me, D. B. Jackson has breathed new life into the concept. And the setting informed many of his decisions in the character, the plot, and the style of his writing which makes Thieftaker shine.
Take your idea and give it a new setting, put it somewhere you haven’t seen it go. Want to write vampires but they’ve been done to death? What if you took your vampires and put them in space? How would they cope with an environment that never has a sunset on a planet with two suns? (Wait, I might just use that.) How would they cope and hunt in the wreckage of a deep sea station since they do not need to breath and there is no sunlight to stop them? How would they fare against mutated shark people? See the wheels are turning. Okay, on to:
Character: Shapeshifter stories have bee DONE. We have had people turning into animals in our stories since we used fires to heat our caves. What Faith Hunter did in her Jane Yellowrock series was make the animal form of Jane its own sentient character, a fully formed character that has her own history, desires, and motivations. Beast acts on her own and sometimes that causes conflict with Jane that we can’t get enough of.
When we write characters we usually fall to archetypes. The lone gunman, the outsider, the knight in shining armor, the bad boy, the hooker with a heart of gold, etc…. these exist for a reason in storytelling but if you can make your character something more, give them a depth that goes beyond the same old same old of the archetype, then you have struck writing gold. Examine your characters motivations and their goals, then find something inside them to conflict with that. Faith did it by personifying Jane’s animal side into Beast but you can do it by identifying what your character is and then incorporating the opposite. Writing a knight in shining armor, make his good deeds be an act of penance for a horrible sin in the past. What if your fay girl had to take a job in a junkyard to stay alive? What if your angel of poetry had to kill someone? Why would they do that, how would they do that, and how would that affect them? Next up:
Situation: Now this isn’t plot, that’s the topic for another post. This is the situation, or the conceit, of your story. It’s the hook that sinks in a readers mind and keeps them thinking about your story until they HAVE to read it. John Hartness did this in his Bubba series. Monster hunters are really a dime a dozen in urban fantasy. I write one, you write one, heck everybody writes one. John chose to make his monster hunter a redneck and used that conceit to inform his story telling choices. The set up allows him to explore a fresh perspective on the concept of monster hunting and even the monsters themselves. It also give John the ability to use his humor, a tool that he swings with a high skill level.
So what if your school teacher character decided to teach monster children to read, to enlighten them so that they would love humanity and then not hunt them down? What if your police officer fought crimes against monsters, defending them from hunters? What if your dragon character really needed to find a virgin in this day and age?
If you take the core pieces of your story (setting, character, and situation) and make them go places they don’t normally go you will find yourself discovering a new, fresh idea. This new way of thinking also will lead you to a plot you never saw coming.