Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Writers never ask…

by Michael Dymmoch

...each other, “Where do you get your ideas?” (Although we may occasionally ask, “What the hell were you smoking?”) We know. Ideas are everywhere. All the time. It’s hard not to catch the news or read a feature article or ride the El without getting smacked in the head by an idea—an overheard line, or an observation that suggests a story. Total strangers come up to you at signings and offer to share story ideas that you and they can write together. (Maybe you can’t copyright ideas because it would be like patenting pebbles.)

Just last week, while I was taking newspapers to the Anti-Cruelty Society, I found a story on the street. Litter-ally. Someone entering or leaving the Rehab center on Grand Avenue had dropped a folder of personal papers right next to the curb. There’s a story. How did the person (patient, caregiver, identity thief) come to drop the folder ? And not miss it? What would happen if the finder took it into the rehab center—would it find its way to where it belonged? Would the police get involved? Might there be a missing person investigation? A heartwarming clip on the evening news? An allegation of theft or other malfeasance? Would the finder end up making a new friend? Or finding his life complicated and his privacy lost?

Maybe that’s not much of a story. But it could be. The person whose papers went missing could be the victim of a horrible accident. Or a disabled vet. Or a cop shot in the line of duty or under suspicious circumstances. (Or, more likely, someone talking on a cell phone while getting out of a car.) The finder could be an ordinary citizen or a protected witness, a hit man, a bag lady. You get the idea. By itself, an idea is just that. It won’t write itself into a story. A nosy passer-by or concerned citizen, or a curious person with way too much time on her hands might investigate and discover the story. A writer might just make it up. But that would involve thought and research. It would involve discipline and ingenuity.

Better questions for successful writers are surely, “Have you ever found an idea that made you drop everything and write a novel?” Or “Where do you get your discipline?” And “Is any part of that yarn true?”

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