Monday, October 15, 2012

Plug and Play: A 13-Step Story Idea Generator

by Jacqueline Fauni

Step 1: Pick a number from 0-2. (For example, I’ll choose the number 1...)

Step 2: Pick another number from 0-9. (... and 7...)

Step 3: Pick another number from 0-9. (... and 2...)

Step 4: Pick one last number from 0-9. (... and 8, I guess.)

Step 5: Pick a city, anywhere in the world. (How about Paris?)

Step 6: Arrange the numbers you chose in Steps 1-4, keeping them in that order, to form the digits of a year. (Okay, 1728, it is!)

Step 7: Congratulations, you’ve chosen a setting for your story! (Paris, 1728. Nice.)

Step 8: Do some preliminary research. As a starting point, find and peruse the Wikipedia article for your city (e.g. “Paris”). In its history section, you may be able to get a sense of what was going on during the era in which your story is set.

For example, here is a part in the Wikipedia article for Paris that is relevant to my story’s setting:
“During the Fronde, Parisians rose in rebellion and the royal family fled the city (1648). King Louis XIV then moved the royal court permanently to Versailles, a lavish estate on the outskirts of Paris, in 1682. A century later, Paris was the centre stage for the French Revolution, with the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789 and the overthrow of the monarchy in September 1792.”
So my story is set in Paris, after the royal court was moved to Versailles, and before the French Revolution.

If your story is set in the future, you can study the history and current culture of your city, examine trends, and imagine the conditions of your city at that future date.

Step 9: Do more research! Let your curiosity lead you on a natural course to different and related links, articles, and topics. Jot down all the things that jump out at you. (Hmm, who is this King Louis XIV character? How was courtly life in Versailles, and how did it compare to common life in Paris? So who ruled France in 1728? What was the Fronde? Was that like a precursor to the French Revolution? What exactly happened during the French Revolution?)

Step 10: Take a look at your notes and map out all the events, places, facts, figures, people, conventions, ideas, etc., that have captured your interest. Circle or highlight the ones that you feel most strongly about. And feel free to “cheat” – if you find that you’re more drawn to the royal court in Versailles than Paris, or to a moment in time that is 20 or so years after the year you came up with in Step 6, then by all means, go with it! Think of this as a word association or stream of consciousness exercise, and your Step 7 setting as merely the first word or prompt that gets your juices flowing. Go ahead and branch out!

Step 11: Sift through your ideas and find the character(s) or perspective(s) that you feel compelled to portray. (Maybe a peasant girl? Or perhaps a courtesan by the name of Madame de Pompadour, chief mistress of King Louis XV?)

Step 12: Write a diary entry in your character’s voice. Do not edit or judge as you write -- just keep writing! (I woke much later than usual this afternoon, exhausted from last night’s revels. The King had been particularly insatiable... Tee hee.)

Step 13: Channel your character and read the diary entry aloud. What kind of life does your character live? What does your character care about? What might threaten that? What problems does she have to deal with? Do the building blocks of a narrative emerge?

Have fun, and happy writing!

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