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The Idea Factory - Body by Henson, brain by Seuss. [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Kelly J. Cooper

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The Idea Factory [Jan. 24th, 2008|01:32 am]
Kelly J. Cooper
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Over at Whatever, John Scalzi's blog (which I read through his LJ feed, scalzifeed), John asked Where do you get your ideas?

Which is one of those questions that established writers ALWAYS get and many of them come up with some cute and clever answer (like "Schenectady" or "mail order") that's easier than trying to explain a process that is either really complicated or one that they don't necessarily understand themselves.

And I always thought it odd, because I constantly have ideas. My problem is much more with execution than with generating ideas.

But recently I asked myself, So Coop, why the hell DO you constantly have ideas? and the answer was, because I constantly tell myself stories.

And when I heard that answer, I said I do?! and I realized that I do! It's one of them there defensive mechanisms. I hate, more than anything in the world, to be bored. It chafes. And what's a smart kid in a public school system? Bored! Plus, I was lonely a lot as well. So, as a bored and lonely kid, I told myself stories about pretty much everything. A drop of water on the wall, the answers on a multiple choice test (especially those fill-in-the-circle kind; A and B were the hero and heroine, but sometimes, when they were on the outs, A dated C... D was evil and always trying to ruin the lives of A, B, and C while E was that bad boy on whom B had a secret crush), the birds outside, the rocks in my pocket, the secret space inside of ping pong balls, etc. Everything and anything was fodder.

I suspect, given tools and encouragement, I would've taken shit apart and then either tried to put it back together or made art out of the pieces. I always desperately wanted to know what was inside things and how they worked. Barring that, I read. I always had a book on me, either in my bag or in a pocket (still tend to do that). Reading gives you tons of ideas as well.

Sometimes I notice that my brain is still telling stories. Like barcodes that won't scan at the comic shop are designed by evil bastards who want to kill comics, but all they have are musty basements instead of evil lairs, except - they can use... TECHNOLOGY! (it's the barcodes that go across the page in the bottom left hand corner - the natural curvature of the paper so close to the fold pisses off our very picky scanner), or the slightly chubby girl on the bus with the terrible haircut who will save the world someday, or the secret lives of graffiti characters.

I'm barely aware that it's even happening, it happens so much. And my dreams are pretty vivid and often have semi-coherent plot lines as well. Plus, with a packratty life of chaos, turning over a piece of paper can start a story. For instance, today I ripped a couple of Negativland CDs, the music from season one of Sifl & Olly, and a collection of Alan Moore's spoken word pieces. Can you imagine a computer gaining sentience from that sort of thing? I can.

So what's your story?
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: yeti_herd
2008-01-24 08:39 am (UTC)
That's completely awesome. It makes me wonder if I could cultivate that level of spontaneous story-making. I think it would help a lot with my writing. Maybe I should try practicing, it'd be like a constant meditation exercise.

Hmmm. Cool.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2008-01-24 10:26 am (UTC)
It's not that hard, especially if you don't constantly wear an iPod thinger (which I imagine as people's personalized sound tracks for their own movie).

It's really easy on walks to speculate about people's lives, their garbage, cars on the street, giant screaming monsters - er, I mean trains, etc. (I walk a lot.)

Weathered benches, litter, half-erased scribbles on a white board, found ephemera... it's all fodder fer yr brains!
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[User Picture]From: bookly
2008-01-24 01:49 pm (UTC)
So, as a bored and lonely kid, I told myself stories about pretty much everything.

Interesting. Mostly I went for stories that other people had told (i.e., books), rather than making up my own.

A and B were the hero and heroine, but sometimes, when they were on the outs, A dated C... D was evil and always trying to ruin the lives of A, B, and C while E was that bad boy on whom B had a secret crush)

I did this with numbers! 1 and 2 were male and female, 3 was a tomboy, 5 was dashing... I guess 4 was kind of a staid, boring guy, and I never had much of a feel for 6+, though I could tell you their genders.
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[User Picture]From: metagnat
2008-01-24 02:19 pm (UTC)
I always tell stories about why people are doing what they're doing...some asshole cut me off in traffic? Maybe his foot is asleep, or maybe he's trying desperately to get to a hospital where a baby is about to be born or where someone's in trouble.

Etc. ad nauseum.

I also tell me stories about myself. I can imagine entire future histories based on conversations or thoughts or moments. It's fun. It took me a long time to realize I wasn't living a fantastically interesting life, actually.

-E
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[User Picture]From: egwenna
2008-01-25 02:23 am (UTC)
Very cool. My brain frequently generates alternate histories, little scraps of stories but they never get beyond mid-story scenes and they're not quite so diverse or clever.
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