Friday, June 18, 2010

Writing Workshop, part 3—One Thousand Ideas in (less than) an Hour

(continued from part 2)

Now came the fun part of the workshop—putting together a complete story outline from scratch.  This was another thing I picked up first from Orson Scott Card (who is an absolute maestro at writing workshops); it was later reinforced by Tim Powers and KD Wentworth at the Writers of the Future workshop.  That many talented pros putting forth a single idea?  You bet I’m going to pay attention…

This is how One Thousand Ideas works: you start by asking questions.  For every question, you write down the answers you come up with until you come across an answer that rings true or interesting.  (Interesting is probably more useful than true) 

On average, I was able to get a good story from the kids in 40 minutes.  As they shouted out ideas, I wrote them down, and we talked about why such and such an idea was good, and why others weren’t as good. 

Okay.  For me, it’s easiest to start with character.  Are we writing about a boy or girl?

(Cue shouts from the audience—boys for Boy, girls for Girl.  Someone shouted out, ‘Both!’ )

Who said both?  How does that work?

  • Siamese Twins
  • They’re fused together somehow.

Fused together?  So they weren’t born like this?

  • No.  There was an science experiment.
  • They were kidnapped and someone sewed them together.
  • The boy made a wish.

I like the idea of the wish, so let’s follow that.  The boy made a wish—talk to me about that.

  • Boy wished to always be with the girl.
  • He made a wish to a Genie.
    • A vengeful genie!
    • And the genie twisted his wish.

Okay.  Why did the genie twist his wish?

  • The genie wants to get back at the boy’s father?
  • The genie is naturally tricky.
  • The genie is trying to get free of the lamp.

I like the idea of the father having something to do with the genie.  Tell me a little more about the boy and the girl’s relationship.  Do they get along?

  • Yes.  It’s a romance!
  • No! 
  • He likes her, but she doesn’t like him.

Really?  Why not?

  • There doesn’t have to be a reason…

Yes, there does.  The more reasons she has to not like the boy, the more problematic having to be stuck with him will be. 

  • He’s just not the kind of boy she likes.  He’s messy.
  • He flirts with her too much.
  • She finds out he made the wish.

I think we can use all of those reasons.  So how do they get unstuck?

  • The genie has the solution inside the lamp.
  • And once they’re inside, someone else has to wish them out.
  • What if they never get out?  What if they’re stuck there together forever?

Good questions—and we could certainly write to that, but our story would end there.  I’m having a little too much fun to end this here.  Who will get them out?

  • Dad.
  • Mom.
  • Friends?

I like the idea of the dad because the genie is his enemy. 

  • But the dad has to switch places with the kids in order to get them out.

Is that something that he wants to do?

  • Yes.
  • No.  He doesn’t like the boy, either!
  • No, but he wants the magic power inside the lamp.

Good—I like the idea of there being a conflict between the dad and the boy, and the dad caring more about getting the power inside the lamp than helping his son.  What’s the genie doing all this time?

  • Nothing.
  • Working at Cheeseburger in Paradise?

Does he like working there?  Why?

  • No.
  • Yes—he likes the food.  He likes having a body.

I didn’t realize he didn’t have a body before.  That’s cool.  What are the kids doing in the lamp?

  • Learning to get along.
  • It’s a romance!
  • Learning they’re not right for each other!
  • Trying to find a way to separate.

Do they get separated in the lamp?

  • Yes.  That way, when the dad switches place with them, he has to bring the genii. 
  • And both the bad guys switch places with both the kids!

Right!  Good.  That works.

I had thought going into this that I’d have to pull ideas out of the kids; I thought that it was going to be something of a chore.  But they completely surprised me—there was hardly a lull of ideas. 

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