Starting a new story can be difficult, especially if I have no idea who or what I want to write about. Sometimes, to generate ideas for a story, I start an impromptu conversation with myself. The goal of this exercise is to discover a character or an attitude that intrigues me. I like to do this if I have no ideas for a story, or if I want to find out more about a character or attitude I’ve already started developing.
The following is one of those exercises. It is a conversation with myself, a search for intriguing ideas.
What kind of person do you think this character is?
Character: I’m here. Who are you?
Me: My name’s Caleb.
Character: That doesn’t tell me anything. Who are you?
Me: I’m a husband and father.
Me: I work from home. I have three kids.
Character: What is the nature of your work?
Me: Web work.
Character: Are you a spider?
Me: I don’t think so. Are you making a joke?
Character: You never can tell. I take it you mean websites, am I correct?
Character: Is there much money in it?
Character: Not enough for you?
Me: No. I’m working on other things.
Character: You are an entrepreneur.
Me: Something like that. What about you?
Character: I do many things.
Me: Which makes you the most money?
Character: None of them. I do enjoy talking, though.
Me: There’s money in that. You could be a radio host.
Character: I enjoy talking in person.
Me: You could be a therapist.
Character: I enjoy connecting with people, not judging them. Shrinks judge tremendously, don’t you think?
Me: Some might. It hasn’t been my experience.
Character: No? It’s been mine. Have you been to many?
Character: And did they not listen to you, make judgements, and respond with recommendations on how to make things better?
Me: That’s been my general experience.
Character: I do not listen so that I might change someone, I listen so I might hear someone.
Me: I hope I do too.
Character: You don’t.
Character: You might think you do, but you don’t.
Me: That’s a little presumptuous don’t you think? I’m happy to talk to you.
Character: Are you?
Character: Perhaps. But I don’t think you are listening to me. You are interested in me. You probably think I’m crazy. Crazy people fascinate normal people, don’t they?
Me: What’s normal?
Character: Emotionally stable. Reasonable. Ethical.
Me: I’d say you were right. So, are you crazy?
Me: So I’m only talking to you because you interest me? Maybe.
Me: How could someone who is crazy have such self-awareness?
Character: Perhaps my mental instability is a symptom of my self-awareness.
Me: I always thought self-awareness would be grounding.
Character: That hasn’t been my experience.
Me: I don’t think you’re crazy.
Character: It does not matter if you do or not.
Me: You make too much sense to be crazy. You are not crazy; I’ve known crazy people. You’re just a thoughtful dude who knows something I don’t.
Character: And you want to know what that is.
Character: So you are not really listening to me. You are searching my words for something to help you. That is not relationship, that is not communication.
Me: Why not?
Character: Because you are hearing my words, but you are not listening intently. You are listening with a goal, with a desire in mind, and that precludes you from really listening to me. You are not understanding me.
Me: No, but I won’t argue with you. I just think it’s my duty to learn from my betters.
Character: Flattery is nothing to me.
As you can see, I didn’t get far with this guy (I think he knew I was looking for something) but the conversation did spark some ideas. For me, the most intriguing idea was that of a man who identifies himself as crazy, but seems to have things more figured out than others. While this particular character may never manifest himself in one of my stories, that one idea is worth holding onto.
I wonder if any of you do similar exercises? I’d love to hear what some of your own methods are for getting the creative juices flowing.
Thanks for reading, and keep writing.