Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mommy, Where Do Stories Come From?

It's so easy to criticize a story for lacking creativity or for using the same plot over and over again. Yesterday I watched the movie "Quarantine." It used several tired devices: hand-held camera action, zombies, infection, screaming. Half of the time I shook my head in wonder. Why would you rehash the same story over and over again. Because it works; the public has a thirst for zombies right now. Despite being a combination of cliches "Quarantine" managed to actually be fairly frightening. What made it work was that the people were 'quarantined' in an apartment building; they'd be shot if they tried to leave, turn into zombies if they stayed. On top of reusing devices, the acting was sub-par. But the environment was just fresh enough to make the movie work.

As a writer it's easy to fall into these traps of plot lines that are overused but always produces decent reaction. Jessica over at her blog, BookEnds, LLC, discussed the problem today also. (I credit her for inspiring this post. See? I steal story ideas too.)

If we want to be considered creative (good) writers, we need avoid these 'classic' plots. So how do we do that? Where do we get our story ideas?

I'm a bit of news junky. The short story I'm working on was inspired by several articles about veterans in various magazines. (See my previous post "A Need For Direction.") So we can look for stories in news. Another thing I like to do is imagine the points of view of secondary characters in other author's works and try to figure out how that person feels about things. I've also seen interesting people while out driving around or running errands, and I start to imagine a life for this poor guy I just saw on the side of the road. I'm not of the class that can just conjure a plot out of nothing. I have to really work at it.

This post comes at a critical time for me. As I'm finishing up "Getting To Know Lou Jones" I'm starting to brainstorm my next story. No leads yet. It will come. It always does.

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