The SPEC method in action
In previous posts I used an article I’d read to create some examples – now I’ll go through one iteration of how I might develop an idea from it. For an initial premise, I’ll start with the notion of a brain parasite that turns normally nice pets into crazed killers.
But instead of horror, I want an SF slant. What if this parasite is able to flourish in the brains of any animal except man? Perhaps there’s something in our brain chemistry that represents a threat to it’s survival. So the human race has to die.
That gives me what it does and why. How do the animals contract it? Since I’m going with an SF angle, I’ll speculate there’s some new genetic modification that’s being tested on grains (to make them hardier) that’s responsible for the parasite. When that modified grain becomes feed for animals, the problem begins.
For a central character, I like the example of a female rancher whose livelihood is threatened – it offers plenty of scope for a longer story. Her animals could be some of the first to get the infected feed. And with the affected animals posing a threat not only to her personally, but to her employees (as well as her ranch’s continued existence) she’d have all the motivation she needs to find out what’s going on and stop it.
I’d want more major characters – say one is a veterinarian who helps look after the health of her animals. He’d make a good ally. And if she’s a struggling small rancher, she should have only a few employees and they should be like family. Now I’m not only developing more characters, but the world the story takes place in.
These are the broad strokes of her environment. I’d want more conflict than just the problem of the parasite, so I’ll posit that she doesn’t exactly get along with the other ranchers in the area. This isolates her and her situation. That tension can be personified in a neighbor who dislikes her and wants her ranch to fail.
This competing rancher will be pleased when she’s having problems – but what happens if the parasite starts infecting his own animals? Does that turn him into a reluctant ally or an even more bitter enemy?
That gives me a piece of the structure. Even if I don’t know where or how it fits – I’d be ready to use it if and when I need it. It’s good to accumulate pieces of the puzzle that might come in handy down the road, but I still need the two most important pieces in order to lay the foundation and start writing – the beginning and the end.
They’re like jigsaw puzzle borders I want to put in place first – then I can start filling in the rest of the picture.
Since I want to kick off with something that will grab the readers attention, with the story already in motion and personal to my main character, I’d start with the sudden death of one her employees from an animal that’s gone berserk.
Because I want a satisfying ending, I’d have her and the veterinarian discover what it is about human brain chemistry that kills the parasite. (They can add it to the feed to solve their problems.) I don’t have any idea how they’d discover the parasite in the first place, or that humans are immune or realize why that’s the key to defeating the parasite – I’d find those things out as I write. (And I’d want to do research so that whatever ‘science’ I use in the story is plausible.)
I don’t know what twists and turns there would be along the way, but I know they’d be there. The important thing is that I have enough of a handle now on the premise, the characters and the world they live in. I have a starting point to get writing and discover the rest. And I have a destination in mind – not in detail, but enough to work my way toward.
Starting next week, I’ll be posting a series of ‘behind the story’ articles describing how I wrote Certain Hypothetical, beginning with how I developed the idea, and you’ll be able to see how this SPEC method worked in practice.
(*And I’ve since revisted my SPEC method in more depth.)