Ideas for stories come in all shapes and sizes. There are times when a story pops into my head almost fully formed. They’re rare, but it happens. It’s usually when I’m drifting off to sleep at night and I have to force myself to turn on the lamp next to my side of the bed, grab a handy notebook and pen, and scribble down as much as I can. Or at least enough that I can remember the rest in the morning. The worst is when I’m driving and I have to pull over somewhere, dig the notebook out of my trusty backpack, and commit the idea to paper. Luckily, it’s only been awkward once. “No, officer, everything’s fine. Just writing down an idea for a story. Nothing to see here…”
Most of the time, however, ideas start out as kernels, just a basic “What if?” or maybe an image of a character doing something and I want to know why. These are the ones that are far from fully formed. I’ll roll it over in my head for a few days, looking at it from different angles to see if it triggers any additional avenues to explore. Sometimes it does and pieces begin to fall into place. Most of the time I quietly push the idea to the back burner, set the heat to low, and let it simmer.
I prefer the ones that are fully formed or come together quickly. However, I’m always surprised when a kernel that I put away years ago finally decided to pop and catches me by surprise.
That happened to me recently. I’d had an idea for a story involving Santa Claus, a boisterous talk show host, and organized crime. It seemed interesting, but I had no idea what to do with it. I made a note in my journal and moved on to other projects.
The idea slipped off my radar for years. Like, close to ten years. Then one day I was writing a blog post and -BAM – the idea resurfaced with an almost complete story in tow. It took me a week to commit it to page, then another two weeks of fine-tuning, but it turned out to be (in my humble opinion) a weird and funny story.
It’s strange how the creative process works, how some stories write themselves while others feel like an archeological dig through solid concrete. I doubt there’s a logical explanation. It’s just how the creative mind works, filtering through all the debris in our unconscious mind until something interesting gets caught in the filter.
Luckily, most of my story ideas pop up close to fully formed. It’s only a handful that aren’t quite ready and have to sit in the incubator for a few months. Or years. Or a decade.