Saturday, March 8, 2014

Story Secret 1

Never doubt your original idea.

What I mean by the "original idea" is the very first inspiration--the idea that sparked your interest and got you telling this particular story. What I mean by "doubt" is change or delete or otherwise mess with that idea.

In the movie Kiki's Delivery Service, Kiki has a crisis. About two-thirds of the way through the film, she loses her magical abilities, including her ability to fly a broomstick. Depressed and worried, she continues her life working at a bakery but sees no way to recover. Finally, an artist--a friend of hers named Ursula--comes along and they have an amazing conversation:

"You fly with what's inside of you, right?"
"We fly with our spirit."
"Yes, that's exactly what I'm talking about; trusting your spirit! It's what makes me paint and makes your friend bake... We each have to find our own inspiration."

The original idea--be it a picture, a situation, a character--is that for a story. It is the inspiration: the reason for doing it.

Don't lose that!


Revision is a wonderful thing. Its job is to make what you have even better. It helps your ideas become understandable to an audience and grip them. It can make your work sing.
Naturally, change is a part of that process. There are lots of times in development where events, places, scenes, and even entire characters will need to change (or get the axe).

But the point of revision is not to mess with your inspiration! You're not trying to make yourself tell a different story, you're trying to tell the story that you already have in a better way!

Let me put it this way: have you ever played a video game where part of the objective required MASSIVE backtracking? To me, that always feels like a huge waste of time; a desperate attempt by the authors to add a few extra minutes (or hours, ugh) to the game.
If you change your original idea, you're doing a backtracking quest, only instead of having to go back to the beginning of this level or this game, you have to go back to an entirely different game and beat that first.

Doubting Thomas

I know this only because I have trod this path one too many times.
Once I worked on a story for more than a year before realizing I had sapped it entirely of life by deleting the thing that got me telling it in the first place. The basic idea came from a trip I took to New York City in my senior year of high school. I was completely captured by the mix of old and new, the largeness and smallness, the strange and the ordinary. It was a key part of my idea, which took place in NYC in the fifties.

So naturally, (like an idiot) one of the first things I changed about my initial idea was the setting. Then the ages of the characters. ...Then the main plot...

Yes. Much and many backtracking hours occurred. It was a really stupid waste of time. I remember working so hard and trying so many things, and finally I got to a point where an actual event in my story was the villains stopping for gas. Literally, part of the plot was that the villains were on their way to take over the world and they had to stop and put gasoline in their car.

My dad, who is my confidant and mentor in most things but especially in stories pointed out the ridiculousness of this idea.

I was so frustrated I started to cry. (I cry pretty easily. It's embarrassing.) I told my dad, "Do you know how long I've been working on this!? More than a year since my original idea!"

He said to me, "What was your original idea?"

I said, "It was a murder mystery set in New York City in the 1950s that involved psychic powers."

We both sat there, stunned.

Finally he said, "Well, why didn't you tell that? That sounds awesome!"

Whatever problems I may have, I'm going to try never to doubt my inspirations again.


Don't doubt yours, either! If the inspiration was enough to make you want to tell the story, how could it not intrigue an audience member? All they have to do is sit and look! And even if it isn't for everybody, don't give up. Again, if you found it interesting, there's an infinitely high chance that someone else in the world will, too.

Now go make something!

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