Today on the Book Editor Show, Clark Chamberlain and Peter Turley give you the tools you need to generate the best idea for your story, and how to drop story lines that aren’t working in your book.
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Clark: Welcome to The Book Editor Show, today we’re talking all about generating ideas and sifting the good from the bad. I’m Clark Chamberlain and in a time when books were banned for not having enough gratuitous adult situations one man stood up for the cause of lyrical literary fiction, that man is my friend and co-host Peter Turley. Peter, how are you doing today?
Peter: Well these causes aren’t going to stand up for themselves are they, all these different causes, so I like to champion, especially gratuity and violence and adult content.
Clark: And we thank you for it. We need someone out there who’s championing the cause and I can’t think of a better person to be doing it.
Peter: I don’t know where I get the time I really don’t.
Clark: I don’t either, you’re always so busy all the time, it’s crazy.
Peter: So, how’s your week been?
Clark: You know what it’s been really good. Been getting a lot done. I’m redoing the Punch in The Gut Course, getting it all uploaded so it’s on our own site, then of course making the changes on Udemy as well.
So the short story class that I’ve been teaching here locally at the college — it’s just a four night course. The first three nights were all about actually how to tell stories and everything, so we just finished it last night and was doing feedback and asking them, “hey was there anything that we missed?”
Getting that feedback was really awesome. So that’s going to be really strong course that’s going to be coming out here this month — the short stories course for the online. I’m just excited about that.
Oh and one other really cool thing that’s going on — I know you and I, we’re putting together a webinar, I want to test the webinar out first to see how it works and make sure there’s no kinks in it. So, in two weeks I’m going to do a webinar by myself just about the Punch Them In The Gut.
So we’ve been developing the advertising for that, putting that together, trying to figure out how much do you give away from the course to make them want to take the rest of the course — that kind of stuff’s a lot of fun. I don’t know, there’s a lot of great stuff going on, feels really good. How about you?
Peter: Well, good luck. A lot of editing. I faced a few problems before Christmas, story-wise. I worked with an editor that wasn’t really working out, so I tried the shelve-it method. So I’ve come back this week and I’ve been editing heavily every day and trying to push to get this thing finished.
But it’s going really well and it is amazing… We always say this — and it surprises me every time I do it — when you put a story away and you pull it out and you look at it, it’s like those fresh eyes are so fresh. I was noticing even spelling mistakes, really easy stuff that should have been noticed and looking at it and the plot was off and the structure was off. It’s almost like once you drag it out of the drawer it’s like someone else has written it. It really works as a technique to shelve something for a little while and then come back to it later and it astounds me every time.
Clark: Yes. So we talked about that last night and it was really funny getting the reaction because none of the people in this particular class I was teaching had ever heard about trying to do that.
So here I am… We were like — this is how we’re going to do our editing — first thing we’re just going to do this really big birds eye view of it, take a look and we’re going to note some things that don’t sound exactly right. Then we’re going to put all those papers and shove them into a drawer and we’re going to walk away for a minimum of two weeks and they’re like, “what?”
I was like, no seriously your mind’s going to be working on how to solve these problems; your mind’s going to be thinking about all this other stuff that’s going on subconsciously.
Go ahead and write something else new, keep writing every day. But then when you come back to that… Yes, it’s exactly like you we are saying — it’s such a fresh set of eyes, like it’s someone else’s work.
Peter: Yes. It is difficult to do because you’re so giddy at that point about the work. When I finished it and when I looked back over it and I was editing it and I realized that the plot was really similar to a popular BBC series over here, and I was like, oh my God I can’t believe… This is just a nightmare; I’m putting it away. You’re like, “oh my God it’s already been done.” Especially in fantasy — you’ve just got to watch out with cliches more than anything.
But then coming back with those fresh eyes and you’re sort of like I can do this, I can handle it. And you feel ready to get back to work on it and all those problems that seemed so big upon completion have kind of shrunk a little bit when you’ve just put it in the drawer and you deny it the daylight.
Clark: Yes, it’s just simmering and yes it makes it so much better. And just like you’re saying with you came out and you said the plot represented a BBC show that is out there, I think that is a really good segue into today’s topic.
We can generate these ideas and sometimes we do feel really frustrated when we find out someone else has also done it at the same time or we’ve just subconsciously created something that maybe we’ve watched somewhere else.
Peter: I hadn’t even watched it, but yet it found its way in there somehow.
Clark: That’s one of the funny things. A lot of times… I definitely want to read in the genre that I write, but at the same time I don’t want to read in the genre that I write because I’m afraid I’m going to read someone else’s book that’s exactly like my book that’s not out yet.
Peter: And you always have the defense if someone says, “oh you’ve just copied…” — “well actually I’ve never read that book.”
Clark: I’ve never read it. . . . Exactly.
It happened to my brother too. Sometimes it can be happening in completely different sites and in different fields. So he programs video games for Android and iPhones and he was in the very end stages of developing and putting this game together about a spy mouse. I don’t mean it was called Spy Mouse. But then another game came out from a much larger company that was about a mouse who was a spy as well. And so he ended up just having to scratch the whole thing because it was just too similar. But if you have those ideas that they’re similar, they’re maybe a little bit different enough, you can shelve that for a while and come back to it like we’re saying, shelve it for a decade and come back and people will have forgotten about the other one and then seems fresh.
Peter: Or when you’ve got some new twist to put on it, something original to add to it yes.
Clark: Exactly, because McKenzie, who’s working for us this semester — she just wrote an article about making your minor characters better. And this was one of the things that she mentioned in there — everything is done already; we see these same archetypes in everything, but it’s what you add to it that makes it different and unique.
So let’s talk about how we’re going to generate those unique ideas and those different ideas and then figure out which ones can work for us and which ones aren’t. And also taking a look at our manuscripts and seeing the story that we’ve put in there and trying to figure out why it’s not working with what we’re trying to sell or what we’re trying to design.
Peter: Yes. So do you want me to jump right in there with one or have you got one?
Peter: I’ve written down here — “read, watch, play and read.”
Now that can be summed up into just basically like “consume.” Thinking of it like you want to make a meal and you can’t make a meal without ingredients, the more you put in the more you get out and I think reading, whether you don’t like to read in your genre, read outside your genre, watch stuff, play games, whatever gets the imagination going. I think it’s — first and foremost — stoking the fire of your imagination and I think the best way to do that is to just consume. For me it’s kind of like a juicer — I might throw two barrels of fruit in there and get a little shot of juice out but you know it tastes good.
Clark: Yes, exactly. It does, it does, it takes a lot it seems like to generate. Sometimes we have this massive amount of effort that we’re putting into it for a very small something that comes out of it.
For short stories you’re doing lot of back story and research and trying to understand and what actually comes out is 3500 words — a very small amount of material, but it’s very good material.
Peter: Yes, yes. As you say when we were talking earlier about shelving a story and sort of letting the subconscious work away at it — it kind of works the same way. When you’re watching things and reading things or maybe not even watching them and somehow they get in your head anyway, all these things sort of form these links. The brain is a great pattern finder and it makes links, it forms patterns. Everything that’s in there and that you’re consuming is kind of just working together to find something cohesive that works. Kind of like when you look at something nondescript and you see a face because your mind is programmed to look for these images. I think your imagination works that way with stories and the more you put in there you’ve got a bigger well to draw upon. You’re more likely to have a new idea bubble to the surface one day.
Clark: Yes, I totally agree with you on that. We do, we need to be totally stoking our fires on a regular basis.
One thing I wanted to point out here, just because we do live in a huge information age, but at the same time you can develop the same idea that someone else developed. That happens, that happens a lot. The telephone was designed and the television was also designed in two different places roughly at the same time. The reason is, is sometimes we come up with the same ideas is because it’s in the conscious sub-culture, that it’s just there. Because this idea and this idea are being shared out in public, it’s easy to come to the same conclusions and that’s because we’re all humans. We all have the the same brain pattern, we all have the ability to tell story and sometimes this can happen and that’s OK, you don’t have to defend yourself for coming up with the same story that someone else came up with.
Peter: I think it was possibly Jim Rowen who said, there’s nothing quite as powerful as an idea whose time has come. And that’s interesting, I think with the telephone and television it’s almost like that idea’s time had come, and so it was inevitable that it was perhaps going to pop up in a few different places. And at least it means that you’re paying attention to the right ideas.
Clark: Well yes exactly. Unfortunately, in this world where we’ve broken down the walls of publishing, we’ve torn down the gatekeepers, now it comes down to who can present the idea better and who can get that idea out in front of an audience faster and be able to tell that story with the power that it needs to be told. Just because people have the same idea, one person is going to be able to do it better than someone else.
Last night we were talking about critique groups and beta readers and how to use them and one person was like, “well what happens if someone steals your idea?” OK, well if they steal your idea and they make it successful it just means that you’re not at that level to make it successful yet. It’s just really at that point — it’s who can make it successful, and because telling the story is not just about the idea. That’s what we’re talking about here is generating that idea, but it’s also generating and putting it into a context that it becomes a good idea that catches fire.
Peter: Yes. So how do we check that context? How do we run our idea up against something and figure out if it’s the right one?
Clark: Sure. There’s certainly some different ways that we could do this. The first one I talk about is turning back. If you watched our series on the seven basic plots, so this is kind of the same idea. I have this book by Ronald Tobias, it’s called “Twenty Master Plots” and he goes through and talks about —
Peter: That’s a cool name. I’ll read that just for the name.
Clark: Yes, I know. Ronald B Tobias, sounds pretty awesome.
So he goes in and talks about plots, like the quest, the adventure, pursuit, rescue, escape, revenge, riddle, rivalries, underdogs, temptation, metamorphosis, transformation, love, forbidden love, sacrifice, discovery, wretched excess and ascensions and descensions. So there’s a lot of plots available out there.
So let’s take a look at your idea. Maybe we should talk just a little bit more first about generating the idea and then we’ll jump onto this.
So, how do you generate this idea? Peter’s already mentioned it’s definitely filling up that well. I would say also jump in and take a look at what’s going on in the popular media today. Take a look at the news headlines. Those have stories that already have set up conflict and heroes and villains and things that you can draw from immediately. So let’s say you grabbed a story headline. We’ll use a dark headline first.
Unfortunately, we have a lot of school shootings that have happened in the past several years — it’s just a real devastating idea, but it’s part of our culture now, this idea of terrorism has become part of our everyday life over the past decade.
Let’s say you wanted to write a story that takes place during a school shooting with people inside that little room, they’ve barricaded themselves in and the tension and things that are involved in that. So you would take that story idea and then you would look at it against the plots. What kind of a story is this? You could look through these and say — let me pull this back up again — is it the underdog story? Probably not. Is it the metamorphosis? Maybe. Maybe it’s about a person who comes out of their shell to be the hero in that situation. It could be about sacrifice, that could be the story. And so you look at it and you say — how does this story fit with stories that are already in these genres, that are in these plots? Where does my story fit? Because if you can’t find that story fit for it, if you can’t find where it fits neatly into a plot, it’s going to be harder to get that story into the minds of readers. And the reason why plot is important and structure is important is that gives the familiar feeling for the reader to then be exposed to your new ideas.
Peter: Yes, so it gives you a vehicle to transmit your own voice. I think as well when we’re considering “is my idea original?” and you think, “oh no it’s not.” Because any sense of un-originality might be just coming from the fact that it feels familiar and it is part of this whole structure that works. And sometimes if your author voice is strong enough or your characterization of it is really good, that can be the only originality that you need to bring to it. If you can just write it in a really fresh way, then sometimes that’s enough to inject just that bit of originality into what is essentially a plot we hear everyday or we read in our newspapers every single day.
Clark: Yes. Having the original thought there is the important part in the characters. But you’re going to be able to create your character different than anyone else can create the character if you tie the right emotional strengths to them. An example we were talking about off camera, and I’ll share this here. Let’s say for instance you’ve got this great quirky romance story that you want to write, and then you’re like — I want this super-powerful ending. And so I want one of the people to die at the end. At that moment, maybe that’s the moment you say, maybe this shouldn’t be a quirky romance, maybe this shouldn’t be a funny comedy romance if the people are dying at the end. Maybe this should be a serious tortured romance [crosstalk]
Peter: Unless you’ve got a really weird target audience.
Clark: And there certainly is a target audience for just about anything that you want to write today, you just have to dig deep to find it. It depends on how commercial you’re trying to be. If you’re trying to sell it to a big five publisher, if you’re trying to sell it to a traditional small press, if you’re cross-genres and trying to find that audience on your own it can be possible. And that’s one thing that I really always like to just bring up. Everything is possible, it’s how hard are you willing to make it work. Because some things are just going to be too crazy and you’re going to bang your head against the wall for a long time trying to find a crazy audience who likes quirky romantic comedies where the characters die at the end.
Peter: You’re like — but I’ve met one other person that likes this. That’s almost enough to start a club.
Clark: Yes, exactly. You just sell to that one person. They just have to pay a lot for your book.
Peter: That’s like taking the adage, “have one ideal reader…” — write for one person, but that’s taking it literally.
Clark: Taking it a little bit too far.
Peter: I came across an interesting quote by John Steinbeck and he said, “ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and you learn how to handle them and pretty soon you have a dozen.”
I just think that’s great and I just like to mention and we’ve said this before — keep a journal, because that’s where ideas either become good ideas or you can come back to them later and realize they were really bad ideas.
There’s a knack of — if you don’t write it down a couple of days later you might think, oh I had such a good idea the other day and I can’t remember what it was and suddenly you put this idea up there and you think that it was better than it might have been. So even if the idea just goes there to die, this is where you tend to those rabbits and you learn and practice spotting the difference between a good one and a bad one. I think that’s worth mentioning.
Clark: Yes definitely. I totally love writing down… The other day I had a dream; it was very vivid dream going through it and I woke up and I immediately grabbed the phone and I wrote down the ideas. Because it was this scientist story thing going on about transmitting information through DNA to another person. And I was like — well that’s a really clever idea for a story and trying to work some things out.
But the unfortunate thing was is I couldn’t pull enough of the dream. Because I was like, this seemed so much more rich and developed a couple of minutes ago when my eyes were closed.
Peter: That subconscious can be slippy sometimes.
Clark: It really can.
Along with this is one of the points I really want to bring across here, and I hope you’ve already heard this. One of the things were saying is you need to compare your stories against contemporary literature that’s out there.
If you’re going for genre fiction, compare it to the other genre fiction that’s out that’s working. What is selling well? If you’re going for literary fiction, what are winning awards? What are people interested in at this time? That’s one of the ways that we can compare our idea against other people’s to say whether it’s good or not good.
I remember reading Ernest Hemingway talking about — he was not going to be a mediocre writer, that he was going to read everyone else’s work that was better than him because he wanted to write his next piece to be better than them. He wanted to do it better. And that’s what we’re saying — What’s working? How can you make your story better than what’s already there?
Because that’s what you want right? You want readers. You want people to be interested. So let’s take a look at what’s already working, don’t reinvent the wheel.
P: Yes, that kind of goes with when people say if there’s a book you want to read and you can’t find it then write it. There’s nothing wrong with reading something and thinking, “I think I can do better or add something to this.” I think you almost need to think that a little bit.
Clark: You’re very familiar with Fifty Shades of Gray, having edited the academic version. This is what she did. She took a popular genre for Twilight, started writing fan fiction in it where she took the story and made it hotter than what it was in the book — fulfilling the desires of the people that wanted to have more out of those. So she took an idea that was working and then changed it to build on it.
I don’t know that you can make Twilight better. I guess I should say I should say I think you can make Twilight better without much effort. That’s what she did though.
Peter: She made it better without much effort.
Clark: — without much effort, and outsold it.
And I’m not saying that sales have to be your judge. If you just like writing for the sake of writing — it’s for yourself — you don’t have to worry about this. Generate the funniest, quirkiest, great ideas that you have and just run with them. If you’re trying to make this your life’s work and you’re trying to make a living off of this then you need to pay attention to the business of writing.
Peter: Yes definitely. I think it can be hard, can’t it, finding the time to read and write amongst everything else?
Peter: But even if you can just pick a couple up a month, one or two, anything just keep it current. Get it from the top tens in the genre or like you say find out what’s working and keep it current so that you can build on… I mean you don’t want to build on something that was written twenty years ago because we’ve probably already moved on within the genre.
Clark: And you know I think Peter is hitting on a very important thing — what’s working in that top ten list?
If the book shows up on the top ten list one week and then it’s gone, that book’s not working. They did good marketing but it’s not working. What’s the book that stayed in the top ten for thirty weeks? What’s that book? What’s the book that people continually are talking about?
If you only have time to read one book per month then that’s the book you grab and you try to figure out and examine it and what’s making the story work.
Peter: Yes. That’s a great point.
Clark: Actually I want to mention one thing. Because you’re right — 20 years ago we don’t want to hit that. But there is something that happens in our society and it’s a 50-year cycle.
David Farland who’s a fantastic author, New York Times Bestseller — I’ve taken a few of his classes — he’s got a book called, I believe it’s, “Million Dollar Plots.” Because he worked in Hollywood for a long time green lighting projects and saying “yes, this story is going to sell; this story will not sell.” One of the things he talks about are these 50-year cycles.
What you would do is, we have this idea like “Treasure Island” was written, well 50 years later another pirate book was written, and 50 years later then we ended up having the Johnny Depp pirate movies — Pirates of The Caribbean came out.
And so we have this idea —
Peter: Oh what was that called?
Clark: It’s that Johnny fellow, what was his name?
But seriously though, it’s a cycle that happens.
So right now, I did this before I came on the show, I took a look back at 50 years ago and one of the big things were spy books, James Bond was just exploding at that time.
Peter: Pun intended.
Clark: Pun intended there. But that’s something that you can see today. Spy stories are hot right now, people have a big interest in it. We’re diving back into the Cold War. I just watched Bridge of Spies the other day with Tom Hanks. It was a fantastic story. So take a look at what happened fifty years ago, what was popular fifty years ago if you’re looking for something to compare it to and will it work today.
Peter: Yes, that’s a really great point. It got me thinking.
So you know the film — Stormbreaker is it? — where he’s kind of like James Bond, he’s a spy or his dad was a spy. Basically it’s that kind of film brought into the modern day and the new idea is that he’s a teenager. Someone’s basically thought, well how would this go if it was a teenager? I think that’s just great. It’s an OK film.
So like you say, taking something from that long ago and… OK, well what if it was different in this way? And I think, I may be wrong, I think Pierce Brosnan may have a cameo in that film, which if he does is a great nod to the origins of it.
Clark: Yes I’ll have to check that one out I haven’t seen it yet.
Peter: I forget the name now, but there was another one recently, same kind of premise where it had the… Oh it had Colin Firth in it, On Her Majesty’s Service or something like that and it was really good and again it was kind of like what if the spy was an adolescent. So I think that’s interesting that they’re coming around but they’re also changing.
Clark: Yes. Exactly. You’ve got to bring something original to the story but it gives you the familiar feeling to dive back into. And so spy novels are just one thing. Just take a look at what some of the other stuff is. We’re talking movies here with the spy things but I think we could jump out to John le Carre and I can’t think of the other guy right off the top of my head. But they’re producing a lot of great spy novels right now.
Yes, you just have to look at what’s worked in the past far enough ago that it’s become fresh again and what’s currently working. Because one thing you probably don’t want to be writing sparkly vampire stories right now. You probably missed that boat.
Peter: That’s six months down the drain.
Clark: And you know you might want to stay away from young adult dystopian because we’re probably about to the point where we’ve played that out, that there’s been so much of that happening. So you do have to be careful on which genres that you’re trying to write in. But if you can bring a totally unique voice to your idea; maybe it will work. So it’s just something you’ve got to think about, because you don’t want to waste all of your time.
Peter: I just looked up that film, it was a film — Kingsman. It’s worth checking out. It’s a really good original take on the spy genre. Yes, it’s a film, but it’s a good example of that.
Clark: But actually that one — it was a comic book before it became a film. It was a graphic novel. I really enjoyed the film as well. It’s a fantastic idea. Plus nods to the old James Bond films with the really crazy villains — and at this point I’m going to torture you for a while — or something like that. Then they’re like, no it’s not this type of movie.
So that kind of stuff was fun — the nodding to the old — but then changing it to something new and original. That is a really good one, so definitely take a look at both of them.
Peter: Yes. It’s interesting how everything is kind of communicating with something else. It doesn’t necessarily stand alone and I think it is worth thinking — how is my story or my idea communicating with what’s come before? How am I responding to what’s already been said about this idea?
Clark: Well yes and I’ll jump on a soapbox here for just a minute — it’s just like with public domain. You’re lucky because you still have public domain that’s 55 years after the author’s death. Is that…?
Peter: Yes, something…
Clark: But ours in the United States continually gets pushed because of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse. So every time Mickey Mouse is about to become public domain the Disney company makes this huge push to extend public domain out. And the reason why I’m upset about this is — because like you’re saying — our ideas for story as a civilization, as a community, build off of those old story ideas. And we are being denied access to those ideas and we haven’t had anything come into public domain here in the United States in over seventy years. So that’s a disservice to us as authors. Because it’s exactly like you’re saying Peter, we build story off of story. That’s just part of how we tell story.
Peter: I’ve just double checked, it looks like it’s 50 years here. But yes, that is a real shame and a necessary part for the development of us.
Clark: Yes take for instance Wizard of Oz. Fantastic series of books, the originals. Had those been before Disney came along, if they were still captured in this public domain nightmare that’s going on here we wouldn’t have had the book Wicked and Son of a Witch and those are fantastic story ideas where it took something that was familiar — The Wizard of Oz and that world — and then took it in an entirely different way to create original characters, original thought and really could suck in the reader.
Peter: Yes, and I think to bring that to idea generation, I think that’s just another reason to make sure you are consuming these mammoth stories we all know and love. Like you said earlier, the ones that have stood the test of time. Wizard of Oz is a great example of characters, classic archetypal characters and age old plot. I think maybe go and see what came out 50 years ago today, what was in the top ten 50 years ago today and what can you do with it.
Clark: Yes and it’s a great way to take a look and to generate some ideas. I have another really…
I think this is a fun way to generate ideas because I think the major elements of a story boil down to three things and I call them the 3 Ps, and that’s — a Person in a Place with a Problem.
I think this is a fun way to play, especially if you have a writer’s group that you attend. Next time you go to your writers group grab a stack of notecards, take them with, give everybody nine cards and on three of the cards everyone write down a person.
So you write down what their professional is — like spy, baker, banker, schoolteacher — and then you go and do a place and you write down three places that you find exotic that you’d like to have a story take place. Maybe we’ve talked about this before, with the idea of the moon or maybe you want to go to Belize or some place exotic and interesting. Then you come up with a problem — is it an inner problem, like an emotional thing that’s going on? Or an outer problem — asteroids coming to hit the earth.
Then what you do is you shuffle these together, shuffle all the people together, all the places together, all the problems together and then you flip the three cards up and come up with this crazy plot idea. Now all of a sudden you’ve got a baker in Belize that’s dealing with an asteroid coming towards earth. And it can be a lot of fun and all it is, is about generating ideas and being silly with it and letting your imagination flow.
Peter: Does he bake a protective crust around the earth?
Clark: Oh yes.
P: — pastry.
Clark: In order to deflect it. Exactly how it happened.
Because I think when I get to hang out with my boys it’s so much fun to listen to them come up with just crazy ridiculous story ideas, that I in my adult life would be like, “well that doesn’t work.” But those type of things can generate and move forward to an idea that does work and it can get those juices flowing in a way that you might have dismissed before.
Peter: Yes and that’s really… We feel this pressure as writers that everything that we suggest or write down has to be the best thing we’re capable of. And these exercises like that awesome one that you mentioned then — and they are exercises — because they strengthen something and they strengthen that muscle and we need to just so we get in the habit of putting an idea down and thinking, you know what it doesn’t have to be the one I’m going to run with, it doesn’t have to be great. It just has to strengthen this muscle and it just has to get me used to, like you say looking at a person and a place and what was the third one?
Clark: Person, place and problem.
Peter: Yes. And thinking, “oh, I’ve got an idea about a story for that.” Or you see someone walking into a pub and they just look like a character and you’re like, “oh.” And then I heard of this interesting place that someone had been the other day and you can start making these links. Those exercises — you just have to do them.
Clark: Yes. You just want to generate the ideas and there’s not a bad idea; it’s whether or not you can execute it well. There’s a lot of places out there that can give you this; there’s a lot of good journaling material that you can pick up. I picked up one; it was a year of writing prompts. It just has two or three sentences at the beginning of the story and then you fill out the rest of what happens in that story. It’s just getting you to write every day, because that’s one of the really important parts.
I’ll give you an example here. So Hank Hudson which ends up being about a boy in the 1930s who’s trying to catch up with his parents and finds out that he has the ability to turn invisible and he’s part of a fantasy world that he didn’t even know existed.
Now, that story idea started out based on a couple of different things. One of them was my own life. My father lost his job when I was very young and we moved on a fairly regular basis. I’ve lived with my grandma; go stay with uncles; go stay with cousins, go stay with friends — all this stuff and constantly moving around. And some of the things that would happen when you’d meet these different people you were staying with, it was like a book.
So the original idea for Hank Hudson was that he came from this large family that he ended up getting farmed out. He goes and moves around to all these other places. So I started writing it that way, I started writing out the ideas. And then I came across the idea of adding in the fantasy element to it and that changed the whole thing. That expounded my universe exponentially and it created a much stronger story. But had I just dismissed the original idea I would never have arrived at where Hank Hudson is today.
Peter: I think that’s great. I love the way you say what adding that element did to the whole idea. Again it added that originality hasn’t it? You’ve brought something to what could have arguably already existed.
Clark: Exactly. There’s plenty of stories about kids who are left behind, that are orphaned stories. Harry Potter is an orphan story, Luke Skywalker is an orphan story and I didn’t want it to be another orphan story. I wanted it to have something that felt unique and original about it.
Peter: Your own life is a really great place to look, especially for all of those three things: for people, places and problems. What people do you remember from your life? Who has left an impression? It’s never about who that person is; it’s more about how you see them and what you’ve built them up them up to be in your mind. And also — what problems have you encountered in your life? You remember them because of the struggle that you went through, but also because of who you are now because of them. So they were a journey and you’ve changed because of it. Write them down and explore them, see where they go.
Clark: Yes, and I like how you said it’s your perception of the person.
This is something really stupid and silly that I started doing when I was in the military. We’d be on these convoys and sometimes your convoy would be parked and maybe you’d be parked for an hour or two and you’d see all the leadership guys out there talking about things. And so I started making up their conversation, I’d do the voice for one guy and then someone else would do the voice for someone else. Because we do, we perceive things differently. A fun way to develop that person, trying to find that person is going out and people watching, places that are very crowded and watching people and how they interact with each other. Going to a busy restaurant during lunchtime and getting a seat by yourself and just listening to that conversation that’s going on. A lot of people tell their problems and share their own stories and you might be able to generate some ideas on that. If you are people watching I would suggest not going to public schools and watching the kids — you’ll get arrested. So just something to think about.
Peter: Yes, but that is a great one and as I’ve recently started studying creative writing that’s one that they have us do a lot, just going out amongst people and sitting their staring at everyone. You can look a little strange.
Clark: Yes, maybe don’t wear your trench coat.
Peter: I love that coat so much though.
Peter: They’re given a bad name.
Clark: They really do.
I think we’ve come to the end of our time today. I apologize, I hope we’ve hit the high points of this topic and we didn’t get off too much on talking about public domain there, that little bit of rant. But did you have anything you wanted to add, to either generating ideas or how to sift through them?
Peter: Only one more small tip, whether it’s useful or not I don’t know, that’s not for me to judge. But another one I wrote down was to check out myths and legends. They’re a great place to find these classic stories. And again if you don’t really want to go and sit reading through a load of ancient Greek myths or anything like that then I’d say just that Twenty Master Plots — was it?
Peter: Because at the end of the day that is a condensed version of things that work everywhere.
Clark: Yes. Just look for Tobias — Ronald B Tobias.
Peter: And it’ll look great on the shelf.
Clark: Yes, it absolutely would. Well if you like the show please leave us a review on iTunes, a plus on Google or a like on YouTube. If you’re an editor who’d like to be a guest on the show or an author who’d like us to edit part of your work live on air stop by thebookeditorshow.com and drop us a line.
I’m Clark Chamberlain and from my co-host Peter Turley, keep writing, keep learning and build a better book.