I’ve finally done it. I’ve finally figured out my go-to metaphor for how an idea becomes a story.
I’m that one recipe reviewer who pops up on every blog and recipe aggregate website you’ve ever been to. You know the one. She swapped in Italian breadcrumbs for panko and eggplant for chicken and made her own sauce and put cheese on top and baked it instead of frying it–and now she’s giving this fried chicken recipe 4 stars but she’s clearly attached a photo of eggplant parmesan.
If you ask me where a story got started, you might get a very pat, incomplete answer like, “I was watching my kids play,” or “I had a dream.”
But the real answer is much sillier, and more convoluted, and there’s no real point telling the entire thing except to illustrate how little that initial kernel of an idea matters–because it’s not the idea itself, but the thought process it sparks that ultimately gets you something story-shaped. The only trick is learning how to let your mind wander, to see what it churns up.
Last week I had a dream about spies in a space station.
And I actually woke up on my own for once, not from my 4yo climbing in next to me, or my 2yo hollering from her crib, but actually on my own, so I laid in bed for awhile, sleepily thinking about that dream.
And I wondered: what were the spies doing there? who were they after? what was their history?
And then I thought: oh, oh, wait, what if instead of a spy, it was an ordinary woman conning her way into this station to get revenge.
And what if, instead of a space station, it was a secret luxury resort built by this billionaire she hates. Right? Because he made all of his money using people like her friends and family as guinea pigs for his medical empire. She’s coming to kill this guy.
And instead of being in space, this place is built into a mountain. A hollowed-out mountain full of mazes and decadent parties and everybody who’s anybody, all in one place.
And instead of that other spy being her partner, he’s her competitor: his friends are trying to kidnap this dude, not kill him. But maybe they can work together, temporarily, to find him…
Ta da! I’m outlining a book. And if this weird magic-infused science-fantasy revenge story ever gets in front of other people’s eyeballs, and they ask how it started, I’ll get to say: I had a dream about a space station.