Today I met with my friend Betsy for hot chocolate and brainstorming. We’re both in our last semester of our Master of Arts in Creative Writing degrees, so we’re both working on our “final project” book. We’ve read a little of each other’s work over the last 14 months, but it’s not like being in the same critique group for years: we don’t know each other’s stories inside and out.
So it was with some trepidation thatI started trying to explain-slash-figure-out my story in the back room of a nearby cafe. Twice Betsy said, “But why?” Why does the story have to be set in the future? Why do you need to have destroyed the government before the story begins?
I was getting frustrated because I didn’t know how to answer the questions (hence the world building brainstorming). I was too nervous to explain some of the reasons in my head because they sounded silly out loud – like that the second protagonist/mentor is an undercover angel. But my not explaining things was confusing to Betsy.
She finally stopped and said, wait, what did you want to brainstorm about, I’ll stop interrupting. But I saw the opportunity to really dig into the story (only because now I’ve had years of experience in missed opportunities), so I said, no, let’s figure out the answers to your questions. Maybe we’ll think of something fresh and new.
And in less than an hour, my dystopian futuristic fantasy that I knew very little about was suddenly a Kitty story. Not dystopian, not futuristic, but a world I could totally see in my head. I really knew the location now that we’d re-set it in Philadelphia, and I really knew the world now that we’d made it “now.” I understood the ways children could go missing and no one could find them, and I had believable reasons for how a secret underground group could exist in this small world we’ve created with our technology.
The story began to have my voice again. And that, perhaps, was the thing that had made me most nervous when I woke up this morning – it was a really interesting story, but not a Kitty story.
So now I’m sitting here with a glass of Australian wine, some Green& Black’s 85% dark organic chocolate, and episode 1 of several TV shows we own that have characteristics I’m interested in for my story. Oh, and an open notebook with a lot of writing in it. Life is awesome again.
What are you struggling to brainstorm? Can you try discussing your idea with someone who knows nothing about it so you can be forced to answer the question, why?
Tell us what you’re doing and what has worked for you!
Kitty Bucholtz is a writer and speaker, and a member of Romance Writers of America and Romance Writers of Australia. She co-founded Routines for Writers (http://www.routinesforwriters.com/) a web site dedicated to helping writers write more. In 2011, Kitty will receive her Master of Arts in Creative Writing degree from University of Technology, Sydney.