Monday, January 6, 2014

And then there were...

847,563. Or something like that. Counting ideas is a losing proposition.

It's rather like sand. Some sand is so small it's hard to see, even under a microscope. On beaches we find everything from boulders right down to that microscopic dust that is still, technically, sand.

Ideas come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes we have to dig for them, down through the sand of other ideas until we bump into a boulder. Sometimes the wind flings them in our eyes and we have to scrape them out.

Ideas are all around us, but most people see only the beach, and not the sand. Most people enjoy the beach without thinking about what's right there, all around them. They brush sand off their hands, try to keep it from getting into their cameras and moan about not having enough ideas.

So take a shape. I'll pick a triangle, just for fun. Look around you and write down the first thing you see. I see a spatula, since I'm writing at the kitchen table. If you have a circle, that will be the only thing you write down. If you have more angles, write down the second and third and fourth things you see until every angle has an object.

Spatula, salt, garlic.

Now look at the first thing. Tell me about it. As I pick up a spatula I notice the angles of the handle. As I turn it I notice that it's narrower, then wider.

Salt is crystaline, as is the salt shaker. Or at least angled glass. It's necessary for life, but it can be overused.

Garlic is strong, the oil can cause burns if it's used wrong. It tastes good, though, and it's good for you.

What you do with the information is up to you--a setting, characters, or any combination of the items that make up a story. Turning that spatula in my hand I thought of a planet that's a flattened oval rather than a sphere. Narrower, almost vanishing as I turn it. Probably something in an asteroid belt somewhere, the occupants hollowed it out by their mining and they now live in the dark.

The substance they mine is one of the rarest substances in the known universe, a crystaline compound that is a deadly poison for some and needed by others. They disseminate this substance in small amounts to the ships that come at irregular intervals. Most of those ships keep their supplier secret.

In the first mine, the old one sits in the dark telling stories of what used to be. The people who know come to this place to gain wisdom, ignoring the biting wit and snide commentary on their world. The old one says their world was once something more, part of a true planet broken off. Otherwise the mines would be empty.


The old one says the people will one day have to return to their home, abandoning their caves in favor of the pitiless sun.


It's an exercise. Everything has a story. Every person has a story. From this information I could have come up with historical, contemporary, science fiction, fantasy, non-fiction, short story or novel.

Ideas are all around us. While you're digging down through the sand looking for the obvious, don't bypass the possibilities. You might miss the opal in your search for the bedrock.

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