Monday, October 10, 2011

Mixing the Strange with the Normal

Okay, so it's almost Halloween, and that seems like a good time to be mish-mashing parts together to create a monster.

Or, in this case, mish-mashing ideas together to create a unique story.

BTW, I'm totally stealing this from a talk Dan Wells gave at this Book Academy thing I went to last week. He said that the best story ideas are born from one normal thing, and one strange thing.

And for the life of me, I couldn't identify the "normal" thing or the "strange" thing in my WiP. So then, as per my usual, I started panicking. Now, don't get all alarmed. I panic if I leave my phone in the car. So yeah.

I didn't really panic. I may or may not have had a tiny bit of fear creeping its way up my stomach. You know the kind. Oh my heck. What if my story sucks? What if I should've outlined it first? Or at least thought about it? You've got 30K, girl, and IT ALL STINKS. DELETE IT! DELETE IT NOW!

You know. That kind of fear.

But I veer off-topic, as I'm wont to do.

So Dan said to mix something normal (say, buying a dog) with something strange (say, the dog has the ability to give people special powers when they pet it).

He challenged the Book Academy attendees to start keeping an idea journal, where we're supposed to write down 5 story ideas each day.

I'll freely admit I haven't done that. Not even for one day. But I'd like to. I'd like to start seeing if I can come up with some strange bedfellows and create them into a story.

What do you think? Do you mix the strange with the normal? Do you keep an idea journal/file? Wouldn't you love a dog that could give you the power to snap your fingers and have dinner ready? I mean, seriously.

46 comments:

Claire Dawn said...

When I was at university, they made us read CIEN AÑOS DE SOLEDAD by Gabriél Garcia Marquez (ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE in English) and it drove me crazy. It wasn't contemporary and it wasn't fantasy.

Now, I don't know. I read both contemporary and speculative widely. And even real life feels like it should always have a bit of magic in it. Also, I think speculative is better with regular contemporary themes.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I don't keep the journal either. I think it's easy to include normal w/ the strange in fantasy, urban fantasy, magical realism and in dystopian. I just never thought about it that way. Good idea.

Martha Ramirez said...

Oh man 5 story ideas a day? That's a great idea but I suck at brainstorming:) I think that is a great challenge though and def will consider doing it.

And yeah. Most def. I would LOVE to be able to snap my fingers and poof--dinner is made--yay more writing time!

Christine Fonseca said...

I love this. I think I'll try it. Who am I kidding, of course I'll try it!

Kristin Lenz said...

I like this, thank you! Along those lines, Donna Jo Napoli recommends this: Something different happens on an ordinary day.

Peggy Eddleman said...

I keep an idea journal.... but no where near 5 ideas a day go into it! Holy hugeness. I can imagine how much easier it would be to come up with new story lines if I did, though!

Abby said...

I would love the magic dog. LOVE IT! And now I'm feeling that little bit of fear that my story may not have enough "strangeness" in it. LOL. Who knows. And I love the idea of an idea journal. Don't know if I could keep up with 5 a day, but still - it would be great to put something in it!

Hopefully we'll see you tomorrow at your book signing!

Tere Kirkland said...

I have to agree that the best ideas mix the familiar with the unusual. My WIP is all about that, actually.

However, I do think that writing so many story ideas would wind up being to my detriment. I've programmed my brain NOT to come up with Shiny New Ideas while I'm drafting something, because I'm easily distracted.

By the time I'm ready to write something new, there's already an idea stewing in my brain that I'm already dying to write about.

Interesting post, though, thanks for the link!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Okay, good goal. I'm going to give it a try! :-)

Sara B. Larson said...

That is a really good idea, if I could make myself remember to do it! (The idea journal)

And where do I get a dog like that?? I want one now! ;)

Anna Staniszewski said...

This is the exact problem I'm having with my current WIP: there's far too much normal and not enough strange. But I'm working on it!

Abby Annis said...

I need that dog! ;)

I've never thought about mixing the strange with the normal, but it makes perfect sense. And an idea journal is an excellent suggestion. I've lost so many ideas because I forgot to write them down. Great post!

Emily said...

I've also never thought of it that way, but I think even contemporary (non-fantasy/sci-fi) books are like that.

The story idea journal is a good one. Although I could start with one a week. Five a day is beyond my capabilities.

Wish I could read those 30k wip. I bet it's amazing!

Angela Brown said...

I keep an onging file of various story ideas. I can't say I have these inspirations everyday but I suppose that's a great way to come up with loads of stories and end up with a back-list in the hundreds by the time you're 80 years old.

I do wish I had a dog that could grant me the power of melting away all unnecessary fat (some is needed for that seductive Jessica Rabbit curvature).

Alice said...

I like the idea of mixing one strange idea with a normal one and of keeping an idea journal and writing down 5 ideas every day. I think I'll try that.

E.R. King said...

I think a bit of magic creates intrigue, but if it doesn't fit with the mood of your book, it shouldn't be there. In fantasy, I love a bit of weird mixed in with normal. In contemporary, I prefer quirky mixed with normal; the gap doesn't need to be as big to create the same contrast.

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

That's interesting that he says that. Almost every story I've ever come up with is mixing the strange with the normal - hence the odd butterfly and dead legs cover for Monarch. :)

Mindy McGinnis said...

That's a great way to look at it! Yes, I definitely see strange and normal working hand in hand in my ms - the strange being the dystopian setting, and the normal being the character journey from closed off and alienated to warm and caring. Very cool post!

Jessie Humphries said...

So the Book Academy was where all the cool people were eh? Though I would argue some pretty awesome people were up the canyon in Park City too:). I like the idea of a ...idea journal.

Krispy said...

Yes to the magic dog! That's an interesting way of phrasing - mixing the normal with the strange. It's a good thing to keep in mind because I guess the normal would give you an anchoring point for all the weird.

I'd like to keep an idea journal, but I don't. I have a hard time keeping up journals of any kind. :P

RaShelle Workman said...

What a great idea! Normal and strange mashed together to create a fab story. That works!

Mel Fowler said...

I think that normal and strange should always be smashed together because everyone has a 'normal' life, and we all crave that strange wonderful something to happen.

Jemi Fraser said...

I'm terrible at writing notes and ideas down. I used to keep a file, but I haven't looked at it in ages. There's always an idea floating near the top of my head - no need to dig for others so far! :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

If he'll also mow the lawn, I'll take that dog!
Interesting idea. I need to try it.

Heather said...

I do keep an idea journal. It's the only way I remember all the craziness that goes through my head. :) I love this exercise of his, I've got to try it! And though I'm not a dog person, I would totally want that dog.

Kelly Polark said...

I have an idea file and a journal where I write things that make me laugh in it.

I like that idea to combine something normal with something strange!!!

The Golden Eagle said...

I like that idea!

I keep a journal in which I (try to) write a sentence every day. I keep forgetting to write in it, though. :P I need to be more consistence in getting down my ideas.

Donelle Lacy said...

Idea journals are great. I have idea files and two mini books I write ideas to put in the series I'm working on, and to just write down any interesting tidbit I think of. Dream journals are good for inspiration too.

Strange with normal? Always. The story I'm querying now involves a 'normal' life of a Victorian girl, and adds the strange of living shadows, dreams bleeding into reality, and haunting family secrets.

http://dverted.blogspot.com/2011/08/chapter-one-of-lividias-story-teaser.html

Brenda Sills said...

Oh, Elana! How wonderful to read that you—a fantastic published writer with a super voice—can freak out too! That sounds SO familiar! I do that every writer's conference with some talk or another. And it's a terrible, panicky, hyper ventilating feeling!

He DID give an awesome talk, didn't he? He's so funny at the same time as being incredibly helpful and inspiring. I want to get going on my Idea List too. Thanks for reminding me.

And I'm So glad I went to your presentation. I've seen it before, but I learned some valuable new things. Plus I had the fun of being in your class. I'm always telling people that you're one of the best writing presenters in the world!

P.S. I can't believe I spaced and forgot to help you carry stuff to your class! But it's better late than never. And I got to carry the beloved chocolate!

Amber Argyle, author said...

I have so many awesome stories that I just need to finish. If only I had the time. *sigh*

Meredith said...

Wow, five story ideas a day? I don't know if I could do that. I might try, though. Awesome tip!

Matthew MacNish said...

Normal thing: I went to reform school in Idaho when I was a teen:

Strange thing: what if they had taught us magic and martial arts?

Great post, EJ! I'd never thought about it that way.

Stephanie McGee said...

Ah, the joys of having children in the room when coming up with ideas...

I usually keep a notebook in my purse, when I go places where I'm going to be sitting for a while, in case I get those random ideas. That way I can get those down before they're gone.

But I forget it more often than not so those ideas (usually plot points and such for the current WiP) get put in the phone where they're forgotten entirely.

Carolyn V said...

I want that dog. I mean really. Making dinner? I'd totally buy that dog.

Jenny S. Morris said...

Oh, I totally want that dog. I think most of my ideas are usually what would people do if...insert strange idea.

Catherine Stine said...

For sure. This is also a great writing exercise. Remember that cartoon of yore, Teenage Ninja Turtles? Word is, it was the brainstorm of a bunch of out of work writers who got wasted and combined stuff that wouldn't normally go together (so, you can also combine wildly divergent things) like teens, turtles, a guru rat, and ninjas.
Oh, yeah.

Leslie Rose said...

Now that would be one darn fine dog! I keep idea spiral notebooks - and comp books - and napkins - and post-its...

June G said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
June G said...

The only thing that bothers me about mixing a strange thing with a normal thing is that it sounds like it's geared toward the paranormal. I totally love the supernatural elements in a story, but I'd like to see some focus on contemporary realistic tales.

Real life has real drama and can be just as compelling. It's a little disturbing that a story has to be kind of "out there" to get any significant attention in the publishing world.

Stacy Henrie said...

Intriguing idea! The book I'm working on now has a strange and normal idea - she's trying to save her ranch from foreclosure but the way she goes about it is very unconventional. :)

Nicole Zoltack said...

I love the idea of taking the normal and making it strange! So many new ideas....

Btw, you might want to check out my blog post from Monday: http://nicolezoltack.blogspot.com/2011/10/kick-2011-debut-author-spotlight.html :D

Christa said...

This story journal idea seems very good, but I don't know that I can pull off 5 a day. The problem is that once I have a good one, I need to write it and I can't be frittering about with other ideas because it feels a bit like infidelity.
I am very idea monogamous. :)

F.E. Sewell said...

That's funny. I've been thinking about this topic a lot recently. I've been working on character development and thinking of ways to make my characters more unique. I've used this tactic but never really knew what to call it until now.

Theresa Milstein said...

I always mix the strange with the normal.

I never follow rules (like writing 5 stories per day).

I'd like a laundry-doing dog.

Elaine AM Smith said...

I keep a journal of ideas but I can't stop myself writing an experimental chapter too. That really slows down the progress on my wip.
I'd like a house like a portaloo - at a set time every day it closes in on itself, gets thoroughly cleaned and dried and then opens again. The cleaning would have to extend to laundry too but that shouldn't be too difficult. Imagine the street closing up one house at a time while everyone around meets for a sociable chat ;)

Nichole Giles said...

Great plan! Thanks for sharing that idea. I'm going to try it.

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