SPEC Revisited (Part 1)
To follow up my series of posts about how I develop story ideas, I considered delving deeper into different building blocks (and I may still do that at some later date.) But I decided instead to take a closer look at how the various elements of a story depend upon each other during the development process.
I start again with the premise because every story idea begins with that first speculative question – what if? And when you ask something specific, there’s both a world of possibilities inherent in the very nature of that question and a defined set of possible permutations. A lot of different seeds, and each one would end up being a different story. I try to find the one that will grow into the tale I want to tell.
All those seeds contain their own sets of characters existing within worlds of their own, living lives that unfold in unique fashion. When I start answering my initial ‘what if’ and follow up with more questions, I’m narrowing down my choices and honing in on a particular story. As I expand on the premise, potential characters die, and the ones that belong to the iteration of the idea I’m looking for come closer to life. Settings where that story can’t play out vanish, while the world in which it will expand comes into sharper focus. And as premise and character and environment fall into place, so too does the fundamental structure of the story – those very elements begin to dictate where and when it all starts. And as I get a glimpse of how it might end, I get a firmer grasp on the fundamental nature of the narrative.
From the first glimmer of an idea, what I’m doing is searching for the ‘right’ story. What that involves is like trying to decipher an encrypted message. I’m looking for the answers to questions that make sense out of some of the other things I’ve been trying to imagine. Discovering one character may tell me something about the world they’ll all live in, which may in turn spark an idea about how the story should start. That may help me see more clearly the basic premise I’ve been working on.
When I’ve got enough segments that fit together in a way that feels right, it’s like finding a seed I know has good genes. Some of those will deal with the theme of the story, while others contain the characters major and minor who will bring it to life. And some will draw boundaries, rules that govern how the world works and give definite shape to the premise. Others will help put things in their proper order.
Altogether they give me a general picture of what will grow from that seed. I won’t really be able to see it until I write the story, but I have something to plant and water and cultivate. A seed that should bear good fruit.
Part 2: The People Inside My Head