Driving Directions

Sunday, April 11, 2010

This post was inspired by a conversation on another site. Think of it as MapQuest for novel writing.

Someone asked how to get a story from an idea. (This person is a self-declared non-curious individual, so writing fiction is a puzzle to him.) He wondered how someone could hear a line of dialogue in a movie or maybe a tidbit on the news and use that as a jump point for a new novel.

His line was : A boy found a five-legged frog in a pond.

He asked how something so short could possibly be enough to lead to a full length novel. So, with the qualification that I'm not yet published, so take my opinions for whatever they're worth, this was my answer.

The first thing I'd do is start with a loose bullet list. I'm not big on outlining, but this gives you a basic direction.


* boy finds 5-legged frog

So, now you have to decide how the frog got 5 legs? Do you want this to be a supernatural tale of magic? Or do you want to write a story about some big business industrial waste site? Or do you want a mad scientist running rogue experiments?

I'm going to go with the last one. Which means, I have to decide what kind of experiments.

* boy finds 5-legged frog
*frog was the result of scientific experiments
* experiments = growing cloned limbs for use in medical research

Now, you have to figure out how the frog got to the pond. Is it a super smart frog who led an amphibian rebellion against the experimenter? Or was it set free by someone?

Again, I'll go with the last one, which leaves the question of who the frog-freer is.

* boy finds 5-legged frog
*frog was the result of scientific experiments
* experiments = growing cloned limbs for use in medical research
*frog was freed by angry college student in protest of experimentation

Since the story started with the boy, it should probably involve him in some way other than as a catalyst. You can, of course, have throw away characters that only serve to set-up action for the main ones, but for the sake of this example, the boy's going to be a real part of the story.


* boy finds 5-legged frog
* frog was the result of scientific experiments
* experiments = growing cloned limbs for use in medical research
* frog was freed by angry college student in protest of experimentation
* college student = boyfriend of boy's sister
* sister was supposed to meet boyfriend for froggy-freeing protest, but she was late, so he went in without her.
* she didn't see him at the meeting place, so she assumed he went home
* boy brings frog home, tells sister where he found it, now she's worried because she knows the boyfriend went in without her

This is the point the story needs some tension. What happened to the boyfriend/froggy-liberator? He could be at home, spending his afternoon as a Night-Elf hunter on WoW. He could be at the store, grabbing groceries for his mom. Maybe he hooked up with whatever cute co-ed did manage to show up on time. But, I'm going for something a little more sinister that will set-up the main action of the story.

For my purposes, he was captured by the scientist in charge of growing limbs on frogs. Said scientist is not happy that his specimens have been freed (mainly because he was told NOT to experiment until they got their lab to sign off on it in the first place), and he's decided that since the college kid cost him his experiments, it's time to move on to human trials with the kid as patient zero.

* boy finds 5-legged frog
* frog was the result of scientific experiments
* experiments = growing cloned limbs for use in medical research
* frog was freed by angry college student in protest of experimentation
* college student = boyfriend of boy's sister
* sister was supposed to meet boyfriend for froggy-freeing protest, but she was late, so he went in without her.
* she didn't see him at the meeting place, so she assumed he went home
* boy brings frog home, tells sister where he found it, now she's worried because she knows the boyfriend went in without her
* boyfriend is now the prisoner of scientist using him for cloning experiments.

So, now there's a pretty solid set-up for the boy who found the frog, and his sister, to embark on an adventure to find and rescue the boyfriend while uncovering a sinister scientific cover-up. Depending on whose POV the story is told from, this could be YA or even MG (depending on the boy's age) or even mainstream adult.

It's all fair game at the brainstorming stage.

4 Chiming In:

Charity Bradford said...

wonderful post! It starts so easily doesn't it. I like your bullet point idea. It is a lot cleaner than my "just start writing questions and see where you end up" method. LOL.

Wendy aka Quillfeather. said...

Love it!

You have an excellent imagination :)

AuroraLee said...

Excellent post! I don't think it matters at all whether you're published or not, this definitely holds true, and for everyone whether you're a plotter or a pantser! :)

J said...

J-
Just wandering around your blog and saw this post, which I think is great. Definitely imaginative. And perfectly probable.
Just mentioned in another comment here about an artist friend who used to think of music as he painted (on the post about your sketch leading you to Premeditated). This post reminded me of something else he said. Because his paintings usually were really vivid and colorful. And maybe partly because he's Native American. He said a lot of people would ask him if he did some kind of drugs to come up with his art. His explanation for that question: People who don't have an imagination can't imagine that other people can have an imagination.
You certainly do have an imagination. And a good one.

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