Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Idea Fish

Writing a story is not all that difficult, once you have an Idea. Ideas come in different shapes and sizes, and appear to different people different ways. There's no telling what form an Idea will take when it presents itself to you. But sometimes, once you have an Idea, you don't know where to begin with it. This is where the Idea Fish come in.

If the mind is a fishbowl than your thoughts are Idea Fish. They swim about, generally in schools, and most of them have "Start Here" written on them. Have you ever had a really messy room and you set out to clean it but never succeeded because you had too many options to start with? Should you make your bed, or pick up your clothes, or straighten your desk first? Have you ever been confronted with an error screen that says "Press any key to restart" and fled screaming from the room? This, my friends, is the attack of the Idea Fish.

Once you have an Idea it's time to start writing, but where to begin? The Idea Fish float over and make suggestions. Sometimes there are just a few, the choice is simple, and we all survive. But sometimes there is a very large school of them, and the assault can cause a temporary paralysis: the fear of choosing wrong.

Endless Possibilities
Let me give you a very simple example. Your prompt is to write about four children who run away from home. Well, if you tell anyone you're writing about four children who run away from home their very first question is going to be, "Why are they running away?" It's a good question. It deserves a good question.

Why are they running away? The Idea doesn't cover anything other than the running, so the Idea Fish swarm over to offer advice... and what a lot of advice! Maybe their mother died. Maybe their father is a criminal. Maybe their house burned down. Maybe they want to see the world. Maybe they were lured away by a stranger. Maybe they received a mysterious message. Maybe they're not human.

Where to begin, eh? Suppose I close my eyes and point and pick that way? Can't do that, I'm the writer here, I'm going with the most interesting once. So they're not human. What then? Maybe they're elves. Or aliens. Or maybe one of them is an alien and is secretly preparing to kill the others. Maybe their mother escaped from the Otherworld and that's why they're running now. Or maybe they've been experimented on and had their memory of the incident removed. Maybe they're genetically engineered to be superhumans.

Bang head here. 
This is the point at which my brain gets overloaded and I wander off to speculate about something that makes sense, even if it's a pointless kind of sense, like the future of television. I have succumbed to the attack.

Sometimes it's possible to prevail against the attack, to find your way out of the maze, and banish the IF's from your mind. But they don't really go; they lurk in your subconscious saying "If" "Maybe" and "Perhaps." They ask if this is really the best idea you could have chosen. Perhaps if you picked out a different one your story would be even better. But how many stories about four children who run away from home does a body need? I just want to get to the running part, never mind why!

Running.... now that's a good idea... Ahem. Anyway. Those are the Idea Fish, the bane of my existence. In fact, I'd say the attack of the Idea Fish is more trouble than Writer's Block. Which do you think it's easier to get past? A brick wall or a tree of infinite possibilities?


  1. I like calling them plot bunnies, because it also ties in with the killer rabbit in Monty Python.

  2. Thanks for commenting! They are a bit like plot bunnies, come to think of it.

  3. This is funny and awesome, Katie! :rofl: :D