Often people ask how to form ideas and where inspiration comes from. I thought I’d share where mine comes from and how I form that first spark into a fully fledged plot idea.
Most of my ideas are stimulated by something that has happened in my life; a conversation, something I’ve watched, something I’ve listened to. Often the link is quite tenuous, however. For example, a conversation I had recently with a friend about growing up in the perfect 2.4 family, with happily married parents, sparked an idea about a little girl of 16 who lived in a small village and had a crush on the guy next door.
The link is the perfect family but the family would make up very little of the plot of the story, at least to start with.
I also had an idea sparked recently by watching the sci-fi tv series The 4400. The tv series is about fourty-four-hundred people who are taken from various points in time, given a enzyme called promicin and dropped back all together in the same point in time. The drug they were given then produced a unique ability in each of them. Watching this series reminded me of a cute theory I’d had a few years back when thinking about humans being made in the image of God.
Back when it was commonly known that we only used 10% of our brains I came up wtih an interesting theory that it was because God had made us in his image and we used the other 90% when we got closer to God and used his abilities, like heal sick people, move things and control the weather. To me it made some sense in us being made in the image of God, why on earth would God give us parts of our brain we didn’t use? Though the original premise is no longer held to be true because we do use all our brain, just not all of it all the time, the spark of an idea is still there.
This lead to me thinking further. What if there were a whole bunch of people that developed unique abilities because they started accessing some more of their brain/some new level of concentration? Now this is beginning to sound like x-men so the next question I can ask myself is how can I move this idea on so it’s more my own idea again and not the same as others.
Well so far I don’t know of anyone that’s done this and had it be possible to lose the powers. Like we could forget how to use the new power. Or that we need to learn how to do so in the first place. Kinda like learning to cook.
Voila, we have a basic idea. A world where a few people have begun to use a unique ability that uses a part of their brain not normally used and can be lost if not used properly.
Once I’m happy I’ve sparked a basic idea I try to create a character or two. The best way to do this is think about the key moments that would be created within the above idea.
For example with my girl next door having a crush, I’d start thinking through a conversation between girl with crush and the neighbouring crushee. While going through the conversation in my head their personalities begin to form and I’ve got two vague outlines of two characters as well as the beginnings of a moment in the book/film.
With the sci-fi unique powers idea it’s much more likely to be a action style or drama style thing so the best first moment I can create is with something going on. So let’s start with having a male, let him be a leader type. For now we will call him Jordan.
We’ll assume Jordan has a power so the best place we can start is thinking what kind of powers are likely to make him a good person to have in a leadership role. Maybe he can tell when people are lying. Really tell, because people can trick lie detectors, but not this guy. That would be a very useful ability. Or we could give him the ability to figure out what other people’s abilities are, maybe even block them or remove them completely.
We’ll pick the later power. He can have an advisor that can tell if people are lying and Jordan will be able to tell people’s abilities and block them if he wishes.
So what is Jordan doing? We know he’s a leader and know his ability. Let’s have him in some underground command bunker, issuing orders to other people with abilities. We want to create a moment so something needs to happen. An interruption is always good and another character. First meetings are always a good place to start when getting to know characters.
Two guards come in, forcefully steering a female into the room. She’s wearing dark clothes because she’s been sneaking around and she stops struggling when she sees Jordan. She recognises him.
So our guards would apologise for interrupting our big boss guy Jordan. Jordan would not respond and focus on her. She’s the interesting thing.
“You don’t have an ability.” Jordan would point out.
“No. That’s what I came to talk to you about.”
“You came to see me?”
“Yes. I want to talk to you.”
“I’m a very busy man.”
Jordan would sigh, let’s face it, it’s always important. But this chick has just somehow got through all his many lines of defences unarmed, without killing anyone, and with no ability whatsoever. She also has essentially signed a death sentence on herself coming into an ability zone without one. (yes I did just make all that up, but it makes it interesting. If in doubt put someone’s life in danger and make them do something out of the norm in response, as long as it fits their character it’s all good and conflict makes for interesting times)
So our guy would ignore her for now. Let his men handle her. She has no ability and he really is rather busy.
Two days later our chick still refuses to give anyone her name or state her reason for being there. All she says is that she wants to see Jordan and talk to him. Jordan watches a few security video’s maybe of them trying to get info out of her and considering who she is etc I doubt they are being too nice. No food at the least and possibly a lot worse. Jordan is bugged by her, maybe can’t sleep for thinking about her, so finally agrees to see her.
At this point she’s exhausted; all the effort finding him and then they lock her up for two whole days. She’s going to give Jordan her full attention though as he sits down in the room with her. But she’ll be calm, waiting for him to speak. She’s in no hurry. (Going to have to come up with a really good reason for her being here, it’s got to be something that will make her go through all that willingly and be believable. If in doubt God works well, or some moral issue and failing that, love. Money would be no good as she may well die. Those are the three big motivators in people’s lives)
“So what’ your name?” Jordan asks. ( I think we’ll have him feeling quite sorry for our girlie here, even if we don’t tell the reader/audience it’s good to know how the character would be thinking and feeling)
“I can’t tell you that.”
“What can you tell me?”
“I need to see the prophecy you are following.”
“Who said we were following any prophecy.”
“We know Jordan. It’s wrong… I think.”
“Can I hear it please?”
“And that’s all you came here for?”
“Not exactly but that’s where I was told to start.”
“Who sent you?”
“Yeah, God. Well my Church actually but we felt God wanted someone to come.”
“Because you’ve underestimated God’s people in these plans. In fact, you’ve not included us at all. It’s really not wise to make plans for the end of the world without including the people you need for the Heaven part afterwards. But that’s actually not the point for the moment.”
“No, I would just like to see the prophecy you have. I assume someone wrote it down. Could I read a copy please?”
“That’s all you came here for? To read the prophecy?”
“Well, I suppose so. So can I?”
“Will you give me your name afterwards?”
“Maybe. It depends.”
Ok and moment done now I think. So from that moment, we now have two characters we can play with; Jordan and our elusive chick on a mission from God. We know Jordan is following some kind of prophecy to lead people with abilities to some kind of Heaven. He’s not too worried about his means to get there if he has a command bunker and just allowed his men to spend two days torturing our girlie. So we still don’t know if he’s good guy or bad guy. He could well be both.
Our girlie is evidently a firm believer in God, and since she has said Church we can assume of the Christian variety. That alone seems to be motivation for her to risk her life. She’s quite open, almost chatty with Jordan but has kept her mouth shut in front of others.
We also now know there is some plan to end the world/get to Heaven. It appears people with abilities are potentially at war with those that don’t have them and the church hasn’t taken sides, at least not yet anyway.
Congratulations, the spark has become a world with potential characters and a lot of potential plot variations. From here I would flesh out those two characters and properly name them both. I’ve talked about character development in previous posts. Then that should lead to the plot, which I may well talk about in another blog.