What do we class as an idea?
The British Library’s archive audio collection The Writing Life has fascinating interviews with countless authors. Here, Hilary Mantel likens a writer's initial idea for a story to a granule of grit or, as the picture has it, a mote of dust. It’s small and seemingly insignificant, but if it has promise, things accrete around it and it grows. Whether into a pearl or not remains to be seen.
Ideas start small – often they can be expressed as a sentence, a phrase or perhaps just a word. They’re rough and unformed. Often they’re lifeless until they’re combined with another idea. Stronger ideas come, says Will Gompertz in Think Like An Artist, ‘when we encourage our brain to combine at least two apparently random elements in a new way’. Take Suzanne Collins’ story of how she conceived of ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy: ‘One night, I was lying in bed, and I was channel surfing between reality TV programs and actual war coverage. On one channel, there’s a group of young people competing for I don’t even know; and on the next, there’s a group of young people fighting in an actual war. That’s the moment when Katniss’s story came to me.’
Not everyone will see the potential of micro-ideas when considered alone. Here are five from my notebook:
The ‘good idea’ we're mistakenly assuming should arrive in one piece, might actually be an accumulation of four or five micro-ideas. Give it time.
Lots more on micro-ideas and tons of other nifty stuff in Storycraft, by Martin Griffin and Jon Mayhew, coming soon.)