Spinning Stories: Working the Creative Muscle

OperationalCreativity_byNursetopiaOne of my favorite parts of being a writer — and running CAKE Literary — is brainstorming. Finding a kernel of truth (or fantasy), a what if, and spinning it off into a million directions until I have something real and solid, something that can actually become a story.

Like some of the other Debs, I have a folder full of story starters — ideas, character names, settings, things I can draw from and piece together. But when we’re spinning stories for CAKE, we frequently have to come up with those kernels quick, and then get down to the business of developing them. So here are few tried-and-true tricks for story development.

CONSUME: Books, TV, film, culture. One of my first — and favorite — ideas for a book came from watching a Discovery channel thing on Roman Mythology. I was enthralled with the stories of the gods and goddesses, then thunderstruck with a modern-day take. And boom, from there, I had a character, a plot, a story to develop.

BE A PEOPLE PERSON: Real life is stranger than fiction for sure. We’ve all lived odd experiences we can draw from. But if you’re sick of yourself, borrow from others. There are plenty of people who love to share their own — and who won’t mind if you mine their reality for your fiction. People are an awesome resource. Use them wisely.

GET SET: Setting is such a key component of fiction — and frequently, nailing that down is enough to start a story spiraling. For example, I’ve always wanted to write something about New Orleans — I know, I know, so have a gazillion other writers. But here’s the thing, when I explore the history, the culture, the vibe of a place, I bring my own backstory, goals, preconceptions to it. So my take on it will be different. Engrossing yourself in the particular culture of a specific place can be an amazing way to find a story.

REACH: What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen in a particular scenario? The stakes are the thing in fiction, and playing the “what if” game is an awesome way to come across a story. Going to the beach? Tsunami!

GET AWAY. I don’t know what it is about the running water — or maybe this is the only place where I’m not engrossed in my phone or my computer or my kids — but there’s something about taking a shower that really inspires ideas. When all else fails, escape. Take a shower. Take a walk. Get yourself out of the familiar, the here and now. That will help you find your way back to the page.

Author: Sona Charaipotra

An entertainment and lifestyle journalist published by The New York Times, People, ABC News, MSN, Cosmopolitan and other major national media, SONA CHARAIPOTRA currently curates a kickass column on YA books and teen culture for Parade.com. A collector of presumably useless degrees, she double-majored in journalism and American Studies at Rutgers before getting her masters in screenwriting from New York University (where her thesis project was developed for the screen by MTV Films) and her MFA from the New School. When she's not hanging out with her writer husband and two chatter-boxy kids, she can be found poking plot holes in teen shows like Twisted and Vampire Diaries. But call it research: Sona is the co-founder of CAKE Literary, a boutique book development company with a decidedly diverse bent. Her debut, the YA dance drama Tiny Pretty Things (co-written with Dhonielle Clayton), is due May 26 from HarperTeen. Find her on the web at SonaCharaipotra.com or CAKELiterary.com.

One Reply to “Spinning Stories: Working the Creative Muscle”

  1. I always struggle with stakes…endlessly have to push myself to keep asking, “What if…?” but it’s a fantastic exercise and generally leads to a much stronger story!

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