Sometimes a story idea comes fully formed out of the blue, complete with all of its layers, nuances, character development, backstory, and plot points in place.
At least, that’s what I’ve heard.
More often, in my experience, new stories first make themselves known as fragments. Sometimes it’s a news story that jogs a hook, but not an entire plot, and I’ll file it away for later. Sometimes it’s a character who begins to take shape in my imagination, but I don’t yet know quite what to do with her. And there have been stories that ended up growing up out of a single scene?not even a scene central to the final plot; that’s how Valhalla got started, after all, with Thor and the photocopier.
Then there are the stories that I think I’m certain I kind of know maybe exactly sort of what to do with, but I can’t quite make them take shape. This is the case with the “haunted observatory” tale whose seeds were first sown at the 2011 Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop for Writers.
Actually, Deborah J. Ross and I both came up with ideas for “haunted observatory” stories, but neither one of us has written ours yet.
In my case, I needed the idea to incubate. I was so sure I knew the perfect hook on which to hang the story, and I kept searching desperately for a way to make it work. First, I tried to bring a lightning storm into the plot to jolt (sorry) the action into life. Then I looked at adding cloud-based computing and at dormant “spy code” lounging in satellite systems. I tried relying on fatal flaws of characters I’d not fully fleshed out yet.
Sometimes this kind of pushing yields results, but in this case nothing was working. So I sat on the story, for a good while. I’d think about it every so often and felt guilt about not figuring it out more than I did frustration. Certainly no inspiration struck.
Until last Thursday night, while I was watching a beer league hockey game. I had my tablet with me and decided to take a stab at jotting down some more “haunted observatory” notes, and suddenly it came flooding out: the solution to the problem which had previously refused to budge.
That story idea just needed to incubate a while.
I still haven’t written it?the solution of course came immediately prior to my having to tackle some major deadlines stacked on top of each other. But I’ve gotten past this hurdle in development of the story, and the tale is waiting for me when my schedule opens up again.
I take some comfort in knowing that incubating stories (usually) do come around. There’s one I’ve been sitting on for more than ten years now, and it’s a doozy. But I knew at the time that I first started thinking about it that I didn’t yet have the experience under my belt to do it justice. Also, the story involves a political morality that is highly charged. While I initially knew precisely how I felt about this issue, my feelings have become grayer in the intervening decade, and I actually think it’s better this way. It’s not my intention to push an agenda, even though I do want to help people see and think about something in a different way.
So I’ll let that embryonic story continue to incubate a while longer . . .
Creative Commons photo: Robin’s first hello by pleasantpointinn.