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formulating ideas - Where do you start?

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ChristiLB View Drop Down
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    Posted: 16 Jun 2019 at 2:22pm
I didn't make it to round two of this competition but I wanted to try a prompt anyway and I've struggled with the same issue I did the first time around...It takes me forever to come up with, and settle on, a story idea. So, I was curious what everyone's process is for coming up with an idea once you see your prompts? Do you focus on the genre first and try to come up with a genre related story and feed the subject and character in as you go? Do you build the story around the character you're given? Do you look to other movies in your genre as inspiration? Both times I've tended to try and just link the subject and character together and make a story from that and I feel as though the idea turns out somewhat bland and unoriginal (especially after reading so many of your stories that really took the prompts and ran way out into the field with them). I'm always trying to learn and improve my skills so I would love to know your methods for creation.

I hope everyone is doing well with their stories as the deadline draws near.

Christine
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Joni View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Joni Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Jun 2019 at 3:48pm
I typically think character first, then try to figure out how to relate it to the subject or the location. I always scratch my first idea, since I assume the easiest to think of will probably be the same place everyone else arrives at first. Then I jot down a variety of ideas until one sparks. I've had rounds where they never did, and I had to just eventually pick one and go with it. I've also had rounds where I wrote two ideas and had a beta pick which one was worth expanding on. 

For me, the genre assignment is the easiest part, because it limits my thinking. Open-genre rounds really screw me up, as my mind is all over the place. 

Once I've gotten my assignment, I put tv on in the background that fits the genre. Not really to get ideas, but it just gets me in the proper frame of mind. I got comedy this time around, and I knew I wanted some sort of misunderstanding, so I had I Love Lucy playing all weekend. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote JeffreyHowe Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Jun 2019 at 3:50pm
This is a hard question in some ways, and I only have a quick answer because I've thought about it before.

I get the prompts at 11 PM local time, which shapes my approach: I play around with both variable elements, usually with the most "predictable" one first, and then sleep on it to let my subconscious do the heavy creative lifting. 

Thus, when presented with a romcom that had "cannabis dispensary" as a setting and "snail" as an object--I made the main characters and the comic relief snails. Then I did some quick research whether snails were a pest for cannabis farmers, and I was off.  When I got "ghost story" and "South Pole" and "hamster"--I thought about who would haunt the South Pole, and why, and ended up with a story where the ghosts want to help the biologist who's doing an experiment with hamsters.

Which eventually became a feature script, by the way--that's one of the pulls of this contest for me, it unlocks weird creative stuff in my head like nothing else.

But if I were in Europe, getting the prompts early in the morning, I would probably want a different approach. 


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote NilesPerry Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Jun 2019 at 3:53pm
Hi CHRISTI... I too didn't move on, but I've been keeping busy beta reading this weekend. Get ready to see some really great stuff next week when the forum posts start hitting.

This is an awesome question, and there really is no set answer to it. Everyone has different approaches they use when creating their work.

I start by simply reading the prompts. I let them sink in for a few minutes, then my thoughts turn to which one is the most prominent and should be featured over the other two. Example: In SSC two years ago, I got "Shetland pony" as one prompt. Comedy was the genre, and I forget the other one now. Anyway, the pony became my main character right away, with her human owner being sidekick and second fiddle. That same year I got a credit card as a prompt (the prop) and I turned that into an offbeat murder weapon. So, I start by selecting the best prompt to take center stage, if you will.

After that, it's just a steady stream of consciousness brainstorming session as I mix and match the prompts in all kinds of situations until something clicks and it starts to gel into the beginnings of a storyline. The thing that's important to me, though, is that I write to suit myself. Not the judges. I have to be happy with my work, even though the judges may hate it and strike me down. There are other ways of winning than being handed a check or a trophy. Simply rising to the challenge and getting a piece in on deadline is a huge win all the way around. All of you out in NYCM Land who complete your scripts and turn them in on time are all winners, regardless of the judges and the feedback. So, my mantra is, "Write for me first, everyone else second."

I'm lucky in that I write with a writing partner. So, as soon as the prompts come in, we're together and brainstorming. We walk through plot and structure together, then we actually talk out the dialogue as we're writing. Sometimes, we get up and actually act out certain actions so we can capture them on paper correctly. I find it a great way to write because either of us might throw an idea on the table that has logic errors or other flaws in it, and the other is there to point them out.

There are downsides, though. In one SSC competition, we got the prompts and worked out what we thought was a good story. We got to Pg 4 and stopped. It just wasn't working. Back to the drawing board. We went on like this through three ideas, abandoning all three because they were just plain bad ideas. Sunday rolled around and we had about 6-7 hours left when we started the 4th idea... not even sure we could make it work. Luckily, in this case, 4th time's the charm. We got it in and we moved on to the next round. It's hard to look at something and admit it's not working, then throw it out and start fresh. It's even worse when the clock is ticking so loudly.

You might consider this... personal experiences are usually always your best source material. My partner and I ground our work in things we've personally experienced or things our friends have experienced. There's almost always some real life thing that happened to one or both of us to be found in all of our scripts. Sometimes it's a scene, sometimes a character. When faced with writer's block, just think a moment about what a couple close friends or family members would do with your prop, or how they would react in a given genre/setting. You might find you suddenly have an abundance of really workable ideas... so many that you might not be able to decide on one.

None of this has been very helpful, but maybe you'll find a word or two that helps.

Cheers,
SCOTT.
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T.E. Bradford View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote T.E. Bradford Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Jun 2019 at 8:40pm
Interesting question, Christi! :)

I find my process to be very much like JeffreyHowe describes above. I stay up, find out my assignment, mull it about and then sleep on it. My creative brain works really well during falling asleep and half-awake time, so this maximizes my chance to think of a good idea.

Then, like Joni (and I'm sure others) I tend to toss out my first idea or two because others are probably thinking of the same thing. Too easy. So I use Rule of Six (or Ten, or Twenty) method and try to dig deeper into better - and less likely - combinations.

The only thing I think I do that's different from some of your other answers is that I tend to push my assignment into a genre (or genre-blend) with what I generally write, which is speculative (fantasy / sci-fi). Taking some genres, like action or thriller into a speculative place is usually pretty easy, and a good combo. Others can be more difficult. But for me, it's like thinking of what they do on Project Runway. Yes, you have to make what the client wants, but you also have to stay true to your own aesthetic.

And sometimes, you're lucky and have personal experience with the assigned subject or character, which gives lots of fodder. :)

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote SisterRosetta Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Jun 2019 at 9:12pm
Hey Christine!

Since I never wake up for 5am to get the prompt, I usually get it first thing as I wake up. I'll almost never write anything down - just fall back into a half-sleep mulling it over, which as others have said, is when lots of fun things arrive in your brain. If I can, I try to brainstorm on a run, too - for some reason, the first idea that makes me want to stop running immediately and write something down before I forget it, is usually going somewhere worthwhile.

Appropriate music really does help - although I didn't really use any this time for Rom Com. But if I was trying a suspense/horror, I think it can be really valuable to sink a mood into your brain. I don't watch too many movies before I've had my full idea, but I usually try to watch a movie during a 'post-first draft' downtime that's in the right genre - more for dialogue style than anything else. It also gives your brain a rest while feeling like you're still doing something 'useful'. I watched Love, Simon this time around, and had a ball.

Everyone has their own thing - it just takes a while to figure out what makes yourself tick. :)
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote lisafox10800 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Jun 2019 at 10:21pm
After moaning and groaning about the prompts, I usually crack a joke or two about them to my husband. At least one time, the joke has led to my actual story (I had "carrot" and Rom Com in short screenplay last year and my bad puns resulted in the punchline of my script). Sometimes a word or an idea just comes to me. (Last round, with "insomnia," the "...and miles to go before I sleep" line from Robert Frost popped into my head. It became my title and my theme and it was probably one of the least stressful NYCM rounds for me).

After I'm finished laughing or crying or both, I start googling. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn't. Usually I have a germ of an idea in mind before I go to bed and I let it simmer while I sleep. 

The craziest set of prompts I ever had was Political Satire / Dog Biscuit / Childbirth class. I almost threw in the towel, but then started thinking about my own pregnancies, and the comfort my dog gave me during that time. (If you are interested, the piece is currently featured in The Satirist).  Often I draw from my personal experiences, the things I love, the things I fear. 

When all else fails, I do dishes.

But at the end of the day, my strategy has always been to land an idea early. Even if it's not the best idea, or the most original, I just try to make it work. 

Dividing up my time doing NYCM, I'd say it's 10% freaking out, 10% ideating, 30% writing, and 50% editing and finessing. And I am fortunate to have amazing beta readers.

I hope my rambling is helpful!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote T.E. Bradford Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Jun 2019 at 10:32pm
Originally posted by lisafox10800 lisafox10800 wrote:

Often I draw from my personal experiences, the things I love, the things I fear. 

When all else fails, I do dishes.

But at the end of the day, my strategy has always been to land an idea early. Even if it's not the best idea, or the most original, I just try to make it work. 

Dividing up my time doing NYCM, I'd say it's 10% freaking out, 10% ideating, 30% writing, and 50% editing and finessing.

Great way to sum it up, Lisa -- and all so, SO true. :)
Well said.


Edited by T.E. Bradford - 16 Jun 2019 at 10:32pm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote NilesPerry Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Jun 2019 at 10:46pm
Originally posted by lisafox10800 lisafox10800 wrote:

And I am fortunate to have amazing beta readers.
I hope the people I beta for will someday say the same of me.
LOL


Edited by NilesPerry - 16 Jun 2019 at 10:47pm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote JeffreyHowe Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Jun 2019 at 11:12pm
Originally posted by NilesPerry NilesPerry wrote:

Originally posted by lisafox10800 lisafox10800 wrote:

And I am fortunate to have amazing beta readers.
I hope the people I beta for will someday say the same of me.
LOL

Said my two favorite beta readers. Embarrassed
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