Most stories begin with a grain of sand.
Not literal sand.
When a rough grain of sand gets caught in an oyster’s shell, the oyster secretes a layer of mother-of-pearl around the grain, trying to make the sharp edges less annoying. Then another layer, and another. Out of a nasty little annoyance, a beautiful pearl is born.
Like sand trapped in an oyster’s shell, my stories starts with a tiny kernel. Mental sand, if you will. The kernel rubs against my imagination, reminding me of its presence. With little more conscious volition than an oyster, I add details and characters and incidents. If I’m lucky, I add enough layers that a story is born.
The kernel for The Trial of Tompa Lee came to me in a dream. But the dream (of someone being hunted on an alien planet) bears no more resemblance to the published book than a grain of sand does to a pearl. After being framed for mass murder, Tompa faces a trial by combat against 300 vengeful aliens.
The kernel for The Guardian Angel of Farflung Station was a character. In the wee hours during a bout of insomnia, I watched the French movie Amelie. The lead character is a shy woman who goes around doing anonymous good deeds. She’s such a good person — I had to write a character like her! She became Sandrina, a mute young genius who spreads her good deeds throughout a city-sized space station. When the station is invaded, it’s darned lucky to have guardian angel like her.
The kernel for Alien Contact for Idiots was the image of an island mysteriously appearing overnight. What if Native Americans from the future of an alternate Earth moved their entire kingdom to our world? I’m a North American westerner, and there aren’t many suitable islands out here to choose from. Want to know which island I chose?
The kernel for Newborn was the idea of a clone who’s born fully grown, well-armed, and programmed to assassinate a particular person. Jo Beaverpaw is no infallible killing machine like the Terminator, though; her programming is quirkily flawed, which leads to romance with her target’s bodyguard.
What about you? Where do your story ideas come from?
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