A friend borrowed my copy of Orson Scott Card's "How To Write SF & F"... about 15 years ago. I got it back a few years ago and re-read most of it. One of the best sections describes a method of generating story ideas. This lesson is my take on using his method. Even if you are familiar with it, perhaps the specific example will help.

I'll couch my example in terms of two voices inside my head: Right Brain and Left Brain. Brain hemisphere concepts aren't as simple as people make them out to be, but for purposes of this dialog, "Right Brain" is imaginative and not prone to self-censorship, while "Left Brain" is critical and analytical.

By the way, this example is true to life: it is how I came up with my first sale to one of the "Big Three" SF/F magazines, my sale of "Old As Books" to the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. One day I decided to try OSC's method until I had a story. While in the grocery store, I saw two older men--Giant employees--in a whispered conversation in an aisle, and the debate between Left Brain and Right began. It went like this:

LEFT BRAIN: What are the two old men talking about?

RIGHT BRAIN: Complaining about their boss.


RIGHT BRAIN: The boss yelled at one of them for something, and he's complaining to his co-worker.

LEFT BRAIN: What did he get yelled at for?

RIGHT BRAIN: Putting some items on a shelf incorrectly.

LEFT BRAIN: Too boring. [Part of Lefty's job is to reject certain ideas. Even so, Lefty knows that Righty needs to at least get the ball rolling before rejecting anything.]

RIGHT BRAIN: Okay, he wasn't the one who put them on the shelf incorrectly. The manager saw something wrong and blamed it on this guy.

LEFT BRAIN: Why would he blame it on this old man?

RIGHT BRAIN: The manager is the old man's son. [Keep in mind that I am walking around in the grocery store while thinking these thoughts. At this point I was elsewhere in the store and saw a junior manager type who looked to be in his twenties. Back to Righty...] The son doesn't like his father working at the store because he thinks dad is getting old and senile and is going to screw up. So he's secretly trying to build a case against him. When he sees the poorly stocked shelf, he blames it on his dad, even though he isn't really sure--he's only convinced himself that it must have been dad.

LEFT BRAIN: So how does dad react?

RIGHT BRAIN: He confronts his son.

LEFT BRAIN: Too simple/straightforward.

RIGHT BRAIN: Okay, dad deliberately makes a mistake, putting some items badly out of place in the store, in order to provoke a confrontation with his son.

LEFT BRAIN: What happens?

RIGHT BRAIN: They argue in front of everyone. Dad thinks everyone will see how mean and unfair his son is being, and the son thinks everyone will come to agree with him that dad isn't fit for the job.

LEFT BRAIN: What happens in their confrontation?

RIGHT BRAIN: (At this point I indulged in a personal fantasy.) Dad can tell he's losing and sweeps an armful of groceries off the shelf onto the floor.

LEFT BRAIN: Okay, we've got the framework of a story... except arguments in grocery stores aren't speculative fiction and aren't all that exciting. Can you think of a way to transform the grocery store story into another setting?

RIGHT BRAIN: Hmmm... what else has shelves with things that could be out of place... a library!

LEFT BRAIN: So, what is the SF or F element?

RIGHT BRAIN: The library is full of magical books, and the characters are librarians. Only they're called Codexers, and they have the magical ability to sense where books are in this vast, ancient library...

And at that point, I pretty much had the story.

A few final thoughts: my method expands on Scott Card's in 2 key ways:

1) Gearing the method more for individual use instead of a group process by couching it in terms of a discussion between your right and left brains.

2) Showing how to turn a rather mundane setting/story into a speculative one.

BOTTOM LINE: Try it. It gave me my first big sale and some nice reviews.

NEXT: I'm not sure yet.

Lessons List * 1* 2* 3* 4* 5* 6* 7* 8* 9* 10* 11* 12* 13* 14* 15

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