Wednesday 16 May 2018

Ideas in 60 Seconds by Claire Fayers

This blog post is dedicated to my mother-in-law. Who, on learning I was planning more books said, “I don’t know where she gets all these ideas from. I’d have to sit down and think really hard.”

I’m not entirely sure what people think authors do all day, but sitting down and thinking really hard is a large part of the job. And also walking about and thinking really hard. And doing the gardening and thinking really hard. And eating cake and thinking really hard.

I spent a most enjoyable time teaching a writing masterclass at the inaugural Pontypridd Childen’s Book Festival last Saturday. (A quick plug to Scott Evans who blogged the entire day.) I’ve been playing about with story prompts recently, so I led a series of 60 second exercises on making ideas.

I’m sure you all have your own favourite exercises (if you do, please add them to the comments) but here are mine.

1. The 60 second List

Set your timer for one minute and write down anything and everything you’re interested in. There doesn’t have to be any particular theme or pattern to it – in fact, a random collection may spark off more story ideas.
My list today included:
Buried treasure
A mysterious tree
A heist

2. The 60 second Premise

My husband bought me this little gem of a book for Christmas.

Inside, you'll find pages divided into strips which you can mix and match to create stories.


After playing with the strips for a while (all right, for hours, until my husband begged me to stop), I realised the pattern is always the same. The first strip sets when the story happens, the second strip gives you the main character and the third strip sets out what happens.

I’m really quite bad at writing complete premises, but I reckoned even I could manage a third of a premise.

And so...

Set a timer for one minute and write down as many ‘when’ phrases as you can.
Repeat with ‘who’.
Rpeat again with ‘what.’
Then mix and match and see how many new stories you can come up with!

3. The 60 Second Character

Ideally, your characters will drive your story forward with their choices and actions. For this to happen, they need a clear goal, strong motivation and plenty of obstacles to overcome.

Take one of the characters from exercise 2, give yourself another minute, and ask:
What do they want?
Why do they want it?
Why can’t they get it?

This proved the most challenging exercise for my class and we all agreed that it will take far more than one minute to come up with a believable character.

Still, the one minute rule was generally a good thing. The time limit made the task feel manageable – we can all concentrate for one minute. And because we only had a minute, there was no time for thinking really hard and rejecting every idea as not good enough. Anything and everything had to go down on the paper. The results might not be the world’s best literature, but they’re all starting points, and that’s what really matters.

Thanks once again to Ponty Book Festival for having me on Saturday. Here's to many more festivals, and many more story ideas.


Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Great Ideas here. Love the the one with the strip book based on the three rules of a premise. And taking that in another direction... maybe the test should be if we can't write a premise for a story, the story shouldn't be written????

Rowena House said...

Fab post! And extremely timely for me personally as I begin school visits next week. So THANK YOU.

And I agree with you, Dianne. If we can't pinpoint the premise, the chances are we're still in the realm of a situation rather than a story. It's a great rule of thumb I read somewhere, and am currently applying it to the WIP.

Enid Richemont said...

This is a verbal version of the more familiar pictorial one - nice idea! As for a premise - I've always been kidnapped by my characters and let them take me along with them, often protesting.

Anne Booth said...

I really enjoyed that! Thank you!