Growing a Story From A Seed

Where do ideas come from? There are too many answers to that question to count, but today I’m going to focus on giving you a snapshot of one way to tackle the getting of ideas.

I once heard Neil Gaiman say that everybody has ideas, but writers train themselves to notice them. To notice the playful daydreams and the ‘what ifs’ that float through all our brains on a daily basis. 

For me the ‘what if’, followed by the ‘what next’ are perhaps the most important parts of the daydream-to-idea-to-story sequence, and it all starts with a seed.

I recently saw an article about a group of medical specialists who have learned to oxygenate blood with an injection. It came about when one doctor watched a little girl die for lack of oxygen, and started thinking about ways to help her breathe that didn’t involve getting air down her windpipe. Now, they’re at the point of being able to oxygenate blood for up to half an hour via injection. A development like this, once widespread, could gift paramedics with the ability to save lives.

But, the article asked, what else could this mean? Could it help us spacewalk? Deep sea dive? What about climbing Everest without oxygen tanks? 

I thought this was fascinating, and for me, this is where the writer’s brain kicks in. The ‘what if’ is fascinating, and the ‘what next’ turns it into a story. What if we could spend extended periods of time underwater without any need for oxygen tanks? What next? Where would that lead? Could we explore underwater environments with greater ease? Could we look at ways to make them habitable? After all, with global warming, we’re looking at diminished landmass. Or we could take it in another direction—could I commute to work across the bay? All I’d need would be an injection, a waterproof suit to keep me dry, and some sort of propulsion. What would it be? An underwater motorbike? What would a city look like if rivers and bays became, essentially, roads? What sort of person might live there? Who could face an interesting dilemma?

The questions go on and on, and that’s before I even get to the question of spacewalks! Building a story is as simple—and as difficult—as that. A seed of an idea, and then a thousand iterations of ‘what if’ and ‘what next’, until just the right one comes along!


Brandon Ax said...

This is so true. I also like what Brandon Sanderson said about combining ideas.

He believes ideas are cheap. As writers we have hundreds if not thousands of ideas floating around in our heads. It is knowing which ones to combine that make the best stories.

Enjoyed this post.

Kate said...

What ifs are always my jumping off place for stories too. Maybe this is why I love reading magazines like Discover so much :)