Composting and the art of What if?

I was in the car the other day with my husband, discussing where writing ideas come from, when a BMW overtook us on a blind bend on a narrow lane and shot into the distance. There was a sharp intake of breath from both of us and much swearing and then I said “What if his child has been taken into hospital and he’s just desperate to get there?”

“What if he’s just nicked the Beamer and the police are after him?” John replied.

We challenged each other to come up with six “what if’s” each before we reached our destination. Six? We had about fifty-six before we had finished. Some good, some bad, some plain silly.

But the point was made: ideas come out of nowhere, often when you least expect them. Shakespeare took his ideas from ancient Greek tragedies or old poetry and you could do the same, but the world we live in now demands the new and exciting, added to which computers and mobile phones sit badly in Greek tragedy. We have to develop original thoughts if we want people to read our work and enjoy it. George Polti reckoned there were only thirty-six plots; Ronald Tobias says twenty and I believe Aristotle thought only three. However many there are, they are just coathangers on which to display your unique take on them.

The obscure column in the newspaper, the chance conversation overheard on the train, last night’s vindaloo-induced dream, all these can breed ideas, but it is in combination that we compost them and allow our brains to turn them into fiction. The word novel can mean new or fresh. Invention is not confined to engineers like Mr. Dyson. We invent every day when we create rich stories of drama or desire, love or lust.

But an idea on its own is not enough. It needs to be disembowelled, stretched, tortured in fact, until it has form, a life of its own. Until it is a story which stands on its own two feet and climbs into your brain demanding to be told. Demanding that you tell it.

What if you do?

Thank you to those who read and liked yesterday’s offering.

Thank you for reading this one, if you have been.

Pat

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