Good idea in search of a plot
Many of my stories begin as pretty good ideas that don’t have a plot. My job, of course, is to come up with a plot that can incorporate these ideas.
Finnegans Festive was this way. The revelation of the mystery began long ago as an idea that was sparked by a non-fiction book I was reading about the Mississippi River. I first tried to make a short story out of it, but I wasn’t satisfied with the result. Much later, when I was ready to write my second Finnegans story, this idea came back. I fleshed it out. And now it works pretty darn well as a novel.
Finnegans Fogbound (as yet unwritten) started with no more than a setting in mind. Slowly the idea gelled in my head, and a complex story has since developed in my notes. About the only thing left of the original idea is the title, and even that probably will have to go since I don’t plan to use the setting now. (At least not for that novel.)
The next novel I will write, Sleep of Reason, began in a similar way. It was an interesting, slightly off-kilter idea that I liked, but there wasn’t really a story to it. It was more of a vignette. The idea languished around in my file of misfires for a long time until the way to develop it into a story just popped into my head. (I suspect I had been pondering it on some unconscious level, but I don’t think it is prudent to understand creativity too much. I think it can then stifle creativity.) The story idea has since undergone a number of revisions and developments, and I think I have a substantive, psychological, and slightly off-kilter novel idea fleshed out.
Another story idea has been knocking about in my head for the last year or so. It started as a sort of mind experiment — one of those questions you ask yourself not to get the right answer but to see just what you would answer. I’m reluctant to say much about the genesis of this idea, but it came from a question about self sacrifice. How much would you be willing to give up to help another? And why are some people more willing than others to do so? That is fertile ground for ideas, but I didn’t really have a plot to weave those ideas into. Today, though, I think I may have stumbled upon it. I made a lot of notes on scraps of paper, and later I will transcribe them in my journal. I have many pages of notes for this idea there, and I’m getting to the point where I should begin to get them into my word processor so I can start massaging them better.
I realized today that I have more writing ideas than I can possibly complete, even if I had all the free time I could want. I can’t write it all, but I can write some of it.