Sparking Off A Story

It’s Reading Week. That means the time of the semester when I suddenly have a truckload of story ideas but nooo, I must set them aside to revise for the examinations. And then I realise that between my revision I have quite a lot of time but nooo, this means I have not done enough revision. And rather than concentrating on theories and concepts and methods, my brain goes into overdrive, popping and bursting with inspiration.

Just a few weeks back I rekindled my passion for a pet story idea — one about a person with dual personas who tries to live a normal double life without letting people know they have dual personas. I know, I am getting convoluted. I set the idea aside (bad move on my part) and now have forgotten just what I wanted to do with the idea in the first place. I’m in need of some further inspiration. And now is a good time for me to share the various strategies I get inspiration, or how inspiration just hits me when I least expect it.

1. Think about the existing stories out there that you like.

My story of the dual personas was sparked off by Oretachi ni Tsubasa wa Nai, a visual novel-turned anime that I have never ever watched. However, I loved the songs (namely Paranoia and Spread Wings, both by Misato Aki) and the opening and ending video for the anime. By gosh you should check them out sometime, whoever you are. They have bishounen, beautiful fantasy-landscape scenery (at least for Paranoia) and just really great artistic direction in general. And did I mention the bishounen?

In any case I got drawn to Oretachi, and read its page on TVTropes. The premise was exciting. All the bishounen in the show were actually the same person? Sign me up! And so I decided I might write a story of this sort. Once I decide that I want to capture this feeling of thrill that the premise gave me, I moved on to Step 2.

2. Think about what is different.

Okay so if I write an Oretachi story, well, what sets it apart from the authentic Oretachi? It is advisable to find a unique part of your story and capitalise on it so it does not become a complete rip-off. Well one difference I can find in my story is that instead of being like Oretachi where the character(s) is/are a victim of multiple personalities disorder, my character could be perfectly ordinary — at least where the mind is concerned. He is aware and conscious of his personas. And okay, perhaps he is not a bishounen. Perhaps half. Maybe I won’t compromise on that.

Along the way, you may find more places you can add your own individual touch to your story. Gender could be a difference, as can nationality. And of course, the plot must be different. But I must say plot is the main place where I tend to slip up, so I am in no place to give advice on that. If I receive reader demand, I may do a separate entry on plot.

3. Write out an example scene.

Sometimes too much planning may detract you from the true essence of your story. Some people may employ this step before they thresh out plot details, some after. I recommend doing both. Before you write out the skeletal outline of your storyline, write a short paragraph of anything about this story that comes to mind. This is extremely useful in character development. It may not make it to the final product in the end, and you may find yourself changing many “facts” of your story after this, but the main component in this step is mood. The mood of your story can guide you to the story you would want to read.

So how do you establish a scene? I tend to just close my eyes and imagine the character in a blurry background. Perhaps it is a city at night, and he is decked in a trenchcoat. There is then a film noir feel. He places his hands in his pocket, then turns around to cast a glinting eye at you. There is no harm at this point in time to visualise your character as a cartoon character or a real-life person. Having a person you know as a mould makes the story more realistic and reduces the cognitive load of making up appearance details on the spot. And most of the time, appearance plays a great deal in the setting of personality and mood as well. In anime convention, white hair symbolises purity, wisdom and gentleness (and also usually bishounen-ness). Black or dark hair often belongs to someone who is colder and moodier. Red and blonde hair symbolise action and recklessness. Even if you don’t know these conventions, you can base them off the person in your mind, who is most likely to already have captured the feel you wanted.

And after the planning’s complete and you know roughly what you’re going to write, go back and lengthen and modify the paragraph you had before, this time getting it to tie in with your plot. It could be a prologue, or what your character does in the downtime between chapters of your story, or it could be the climax of the entire tale. Make sure the same feeling is still captured. This also strengthens the bond you have with your character, because authors will write better when they’re comfortable and synchronised with their characters. Once you feel you know your character well enough, this is the start of a budding author-character relationship. Embark on the journey together and discover more about each other in the process!

Whoever said writing was a solitary activity has just never had the experience of travelling through a story with their best friends — the characters they encounter in their own story. If you treat each and every one of your characters as an individual to be respected and loved, your story will be that much more fulfilling both for you and your reader.

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