The question seems to be inherent and ubiquitous both in the field of aspiring writers and among the public. It would seem that there are as many answers as writers. With some difficulty, it is possible to start taxonomizing responses in species and subspecies. One finds that they can be distributed over a broad spectrum that ranges from the most candid approach to the Insensitive pragmatic intention.
Margaret Atwood states that she never starts with an idea and that sometimes her books have started with objects instead of being motivated by characters or scenes. Stephen King says that after watching on TV about a killing on McDonald's, he was inspired and wanted to write about it. As you can see, writers come in all flavors and there and there are some that one could hate.
Although they exhibit a different appearance, around the center of this probabilistic spectrum, a common characteristic is distinguished. That characteristic is the search for an idea that conflicts us in some way, be it against our common sense, our social order, our scale of values, or our physical or philosophical laws. From these conflicts, the stories are born.
Some authors like Dan Brown think that looking for the idea comes after establishing a world for the novel. This world will consist of the fusion of two different orbs which are intensely antagonistic in one or several aspects: for example, the new and the old. For me, his approach is not very different from starting with an idea: Dan lets the establishment of an initial environment generate the conflict situation as always happens when we try to merge two different areas. He says: " And out of that world will come naturally endless numbers of moral questions."
Neil Gaiman believes that writers get their ideas from what he calls "confluences". "You get ideas from things that you have seen and thought and know about and then something else that you have seen and thought and know about and the realization that you can just collide those things." I call them "connections." Dan Brown also makes connections of the same type, although he has never said that these are the engine of his creativity. When he considers the moral questions generated by dramatic environments, he then makes his own connections, and these are the origin of his books. When Brown explains the conflict between two antagonistic environments, he says: "And I thought, how do you somehow fuse these two? I had this idea that I've taken the very old, the very new, fuse them, and immediate point of conflict." Doesn't it sound like Gaiman's confluences concept?
The "AHA! moment"
So, the key to generating ideas that serve to start a story seems to be to look for those confluences or connections. Sometimes they happen at the least expected moment. I call it an "AHA! moment" to the moment when one becomes aware of a confluence or connection. I have them very often, but not all have to do with literature. I could tell many of them, however, I will use the experience of another author. Brown has the idea for "Digital Fortress" after he was complaining about an invasive practice of the National Security Office. The answer he received was that thanks to the ability to read personal emails, they have stopped three terrorists. Then Brown had his "AHA! moment." He realizes that there was a moral gray area there. How much civilian privacy will you give up in the name of National security? Digital Fortress was born at that very precise moment.
Is it possible to train our mind to discover connections that generate creative ideas? Gaiman proposes to examine popular stories or things that people take for granted and turn them around to reinvent them. The exercise would consist of looking at these things as if it were the first time by examining them as if one were an anthropologist observing a primitive culture. You should look at them as if they do not make perfect sense. Perhaps, one would have to look for the deeper meaning of certain elements so popular and twisted, such as a pedophile wolf that speaks and dresses like a grandmother. What happens if a werewolf bites a chair? What does a wolf chair do? Attack or go to a barbershop? "Use it as a framework, Gaiman says. "Or use it as a mirror. Or use it as something to bounce ideas off"... "And then write your own take on it."
When Aaron Sorkin talks about screenwriting, he considers ideas indispensable and inseparable from conflict. "The conflicts that I write about are ideas." "It's usually a conflict of ideas. What you want is for the competing ideas to be equally strong."
Is it possible to train your mind?
As I said, I frequently attend to moments of confluence or confluences come to me. The confluences show me the connections I need for my writing. I think it's a gift we all have. Some people are more awakened to the gift than others. Is there a way to train the mind to activate openness to confluences? I will attempt to answer that question in the following blog post.
Good Bye for now and remember, if you can dream of it, you can do it.