I love reading articles and books discussing the craft of writing. Recently, I’ve been focusing on the intricacies of plot. Maybe you’ve heard the advice “write what you know.” This makes sort of obvious sense to me. I mean, it’s kind of hard to write about the social habits of baboons in southern Africa if you know nothing about them, right? Unless, of course, you live to do lots and lots of research.
Anyway, I came upon a slightly different take on the wisdom of writing what you know. In Plot and Structure: Techniques and exercises for crafting a plot that grips readers from start to finish,James Scott Bell writes about the advantages of crafting stories based on who you are. Yes, who you are. Well, that got my attention. According to Mr. Bell, a writer would do well to dive into his or her inner self and dip into his or her heart and soul to find and mine gems that could, potentially, be fabulous story ideas. By doing this, the ideas are practically guaranteed to be fresh and instilled with a passion that is unique to that writer. Interesting, right?
So, what matters most to you? What topics do you most often comment on? What are your hopes, dreams, fears, and insecurities? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are your talents and failings? What events from your past have shaped who you are now? What has embarrassed you beyond measure? Or made you proud enough to strut? What makes you cry? Do you have a secret? Do you have a philosophy that guides you? Do you have an unfulfilled wish or wishes? Any regrets? Is there some activity that you’d like to do, but may not be willing to talk about? Is there some person that you would like to meet?
These questions could go on and on, of course, but perhaps one or more of them could spark an idea for a story. An exciting, wonderful idea. Once you have that spark, ask yourself the best question of all (at least I think this is the best): Does this story idea hit some emotional place inside me? Does the story idea slam at least one of my nerves head on? “If not,” James Scott Bell asks in Plot and Structure, “why write it?”