Jun 032011

I’m finding the “walkthrough” feature of the writing career development course I’m doing extremely useful and enlightening, in particular the student “Hotseats” where a student of the course gets to brainstorm through a particular problem they are having. Recently someone had the exact same issue I’ve faced multiple times: you’ve got a great idea for a story – perhaps you’ve even started writing it – and then, whaddya know, you read someone else’s book, or watch a movie or TV show, and there’s your story smirking back at you.

I’m convinced my so-called muse got fed up with me a few years ago and packed up and astro-travelled to Hollywood where she’s happily providing the scriptwriters of the StarGate shows with all my ideas. I’ve scrapped a good half-dozen ideas after seeing them realised on that franchise.

Now I know I needn’t have hit delete after all. As disconcerting as it is to discover that other writers have a similar thought process to you, it’s important to realise that almost all of our ideas are derivative. There are only thirty-three thirty-seven dramatic plot strand definitions around which a plot-based story can be constructed.

The solution to the dilemma of writing something that turns out to be similar to another story that you may not even have read or know about is characterisation. It is your characters who make your story unique. Give your characters strong, convincing motivations and allow your plot to move fluidly based on the actions of the characters. It is your unique perspective that shapes your characters (even if they’re nothing like you) and therefore your story will be unique if you put character first and plot second.

Luckily I saved some of my favourite characters from the stories I scrapped and found a new story for them to drive. But going forward I’ll be less inclined to panic and delete when I discover someone else has already used my idea.

How about you? Can this course help you? Are you caught up in the mire of writing a novel? Frustrated by the blinking cursor? Depressed by your blank pages, soggy plot, or characters who’ve gone on strike?

This course has been developed by an established novelist who has taught thousands of writers a unique, systematic, repeatable method for creating not just fiction, but really good, rich, deep, meaningful fiction. It is a 32-week online writing course.

I’m a student of How to Think Sideways, and while some of these methods don’t resonate with me, many ideas have helped me, as I’ve mentioned. I think the information covered is well worth the cost of the course.

You can click here to go find out more or join the class. This is an affiliate link and you’ll be helping me if you buy through my link. (If you prefer not to give me credit for the referral, that’s fine too; you can knock my name off the link.)

Aug 222009

In post-birth bliss my plans were simple: spend as much time as I can handle at my baby’s eye level trying to see the world from his perspective; take it easy, live simply, let the housework go for a while; and gradually, as the mood takes me, get back into the writing I really love – my many novels planned out and half-begun.

I never would’ve imagined that I would be dragging my baby off to a protest rally to fight for my right to have a natural birth again. Nor would I have believed that almost the only writing I would manage would be letters and Senate Inquiry submissions arguing against the proposed Bill that aims to deprive me of a midwife at my next birth.

I can’t help but wonder at the reality of this situation. It seems to be something out of a work of fiction; across two pieces of legislation lies a technicality that strips women of a basic right that most wouldn’t exercise anyway… until…  [cue sinister music]. Even in our very real protest against this oversight we enter into the realm of Speculative Fiction. What if?

So let’s speculate. Let’s take this into the realm of fiction* and have a close, but safe, look at what may be:

— What if there really was a higher level conspiracy against women? What if iatrogenic depression and trauma has been a convenient way of suppressing women for years, but the alarming trend towards homebirthing has been empowering women instead?

— What if there were an obstetric monopoly? Or, conversely, what if there were a midwifery monopoly? What if only a tiny percentage of a country’s obstetricians were actually retained for emergency situations? How hard would a character fight to hold onto a profession for which they have trained for many years? What tactics could a large body use to ensure a lucrative and easy profession, sought after but exclusive, continued to be protected at government level.

— What if it were an extreme natural birthing model being enforced by law and no woman would be allowed pain relief or caesarean surgery? What would happen in a true emergency?

— Isaac Asimov’s The Naked Sun explores in part a world where contact between people is abhorrent and children are simply products delivered as efficiently as possible and then raised in a communal nursery until they each, too, can be isolated. Research has since gone further to suggest that removing a baby from human contact following birth increases the possibility that it will attach to material objects. So who could stand to benefit from a civilisation trained to attach to possessions and not people?

— The movies Code 46 and Gattaca involve authoritarian interference in conception and birth in an attempt to avoid certain defects or to engineer the type of person who is preferable to the particular society. How easy a road is this for a society to go down starting with just tiny modifications that gradually increase? What if a world’s authorities have the legal right to order the termination of a pregnancy? Conversely, what type of vast improvements in human biology might be achieved by truly and accurately understanding the genome and being able to pinpoint exact genes for change?

–A study is being done in Sweden into whether caesarean section delivery of a baby causes epigenetic changes to the baby’s genome. What group might benefit from being able to deliberately alter the genes of such babies while making it seem accidental? How might such a group ensure that enough babies are available for their requirements?

So, you’ve received some insight into how one newsworthy item can spark a whole list of story ideas. Why don’t you try it? Take a news report that interests you and let your imagine go for a ride on the What If? train.

*Remember this is intended to be fiction. This speculation does not necessarily reflect my personal beliefs or theories and is intended to encourage further thought and debate in the realm of fiction.