One more week until school is back. Just seven more sleeps until the morning that I wave my kids off to school, brew a coffee, and settle back into some writing.
I can almost smell the coffee.
While I haven’t been writing (click here to find out why not), I’ve set myself another small goal – one that is easier to achieve when you only have small pockets of free time. I’ve been spending time on Twitter: figuring out how it works and what the rules of engagement are (there are lots of unspoken rules – believe me!); building up followers; checking out the blog posts written by authors, and providers of services to authors. There is an incredible wealth of information to be accessed via twitter. I cannot believe that I never knew how powerful Twitter is, until now.
Every now and then I click on a Twitter link that leads to a post that really resonates with me - because it has just the right information, at the right time.
A couple of days ago, I clicked through to this post entitled ‘Beware the Under-cooked Story Concept’ by Larry Brooks. The basic premise of this post is that a strong story requires a strong concept, and that too many writers begin writing their novels with only an idea. These ideas are what Larry calls, ’undercooked concepts.’ Without a strong concept, a story becomes episodic. To paraphrase Larry, ‘the story has tanked before it has even got underway.’
Yikes! As I read through, I realised that my story idea is so undercooked it’s probably going to give me poisoning! If you’ve been reading my blog regularly you will know that my story idea goes something like this … the protagonist, a boy in his late teens, is cryogenically frozen after his death in a car crash. What no one realises is that he had been pronounced dead in error – and frozen alive. Many years later he wakes in the cryogenic facility when the backup generators fail. He is still suffering from amnesia sustained during the car crash. While he has been frozen, the earth has been hit by a series of super-flares from the sun. The species that have survived the radiation have mutated.
According to Larry’s definition and examples, what I have just described is an idea – a starting point that could go anywhere. I don’t yet have a concept, and I don’t have a dramatic question arising from my concept.
But all is not lost. I have been doing some thinking about my protagonist over the past few weeks, and decided that his overridding quest will be to find his pre-amnesia identity. He becomes obsessed with trying to find his old home and answers to his background. This leads him on a dangerous journey across the post-apocalyptic landscape he has found himself in. This is his core story goal. I think this is my concept.
The other day I was talking about my story with a writer friend, and thinking aloud. I told her that I envisaged that when my protagonist discovers his real identity, it would be one that would bear little resemblence to the person he has become, and that this would cause him a crisis of identity. Which identity will he choose to identify with - the person he was, or the person he has become? Can they be separated?
It’s not surprising to me that I have ended up thinking about identity issues. I have a shelf full of books on the subject of identity theft. It’s an interest of mine, albeit a wacky one!
I’m not sure if I’m 100% of the way there yet. I noticed that other writers had posted their concepts in the comments section of Larry’s post to get his thoughts, so I think I’ll do the same. If he gets back to me with some helpful advice, I’ll let you know!
Meanwhile I’ll keep thinking, reading and learning, and hopefully I can write better because of it.
Postscript (1 February) – I did post my concept into the comments on Larry’s post and there was a heap of interesting discussion that made me think about my decisions, and it has helped to stimulate some thinking about where my story is going.