There are, apparently, many methods to use when coming up with a story or an idea for a story. The most common and by default, most popular, is the different perspective story. One reads or sees or is told of an incident or happening and tries to imagine it from a different point of view. There is also the method I favour of imagining what happened around the incident to cause it.
My normal approach to coming up with a story is to have one scene in my mind, it could be a short scene or even just an encounter, it may not even lend itself to a particular genre or even hint at a story, but once I have a scene played out in my mind, my brain will start building a story around it.
As tempting as it is, I will not start writing until I know how my story is going to end. I know if I start writing I will just waffle on, hoping that the story will work out. It won’t. Not that I plan the story or script out from beginning to end. Oft times I don’t even know what characters I have, introducing characters as I need them, a very first draft way to work.
There is a school of thought that says one should begin with a log-line, the story encapsulated in one sentence. This is supposed to help you stay on course whilst writing, the central premise of the work nailed in the log-line. It is not something that I have tried with any great conviction, as I have always found it difficult to come up with a log-line and anyone who pays any attention to any of the many filmmaking gurus who populate the net, will understand my anxiety at not being able to nail my story in a sentence.
According to just about every filmmaking guru ever, one should be able to tell one’s story in a sentence. If you cannot sum up your idea in a sentence, it is probably not very good. Admittedly, every classic film can be described in a sentence, but not necessarily a compelling one. Besides, what is of interest to one person is not always of interest to the masses.
The story, the script, has to come first, everything else is secondary. We have all seen beautiful films that did not quite work – “cough, cough” Avatar “cough, cough” – because the story was only written to serve the visuals or some new technological advance. Technology should help to enhance storytelling, not the other way around.
Write what you know is another popular gem that is bandied about by many a screenwriting sage. Though, on the face of it, this is good advice, what if you know very little? What if what you know isn’t particularly interesting? Some people have an encyclopaedic knowledge of stamps, but not many would want to see or write a film about that. If people only wrote what they knew about, some of the greatest and most imaginative literary and cinematic works would never have come to be.
This where the procrastination is both dangerous and a necessity. It is the fine balance between creative rumination and avoiding tackling a story or project. Sometimes one needs to take a step back from a project, let it sit awhile and then come back to it with a fresh perspective. One does not want to leave it too long because each work has its own momentum, a momentum that once broken can take a long time, months, maybe even years to get back.
Like any skill or discipline, as ethereal as fiction writing can be, the more you do it the better you become. Unless you repeat the same mistakes over and over, one cannot help but improve with consistent application. So it looks as though I’m going to have to contradict myself and launch into writing a story without an end in mind. After all, practice makes perfect.