At the website Upstart Crow, Michael Stearns talks about the wonderful Bruce Coville and his theory that to come up with a truly original idea, you need to go through 19 other ideas first. He’s talking mainly about character names and places, but I think it’s relevant to writing the story itself as well.
At the moment, I’m struggling to find an ending for a story I’ve been working on for a couple of months. I just don’t know how to end it. I read Michael’s article, and yesterday sat down with a plan.
To write 20 different endings.
I wrote three while drinking my morning coffee.
Another one while picking up a few groceries (that one was in my head, scribbled down as soon as I got home).
I wrote two while waiting to get my driver’s license renewed. And then…I saw my main character. There he was, all kindness and bluster, talking on the phone while having his truck license renewed. He said, “The lovely young girl here is being a gem.” His face was reddish, smooth, his hair short and almost combed over, he surveyed the room as if he owned it but in a confident, pleasant way, not an arrogant way.
This is my guy. This is my survivor.
I wrote another two endings now I knew exactly what he looked like.
I’ll probably do a couple more today, but I think I’ve cracked it.
I think it’s a good writing exercise, but I don’t neccessarily think that the final idea will be the best one. I don’t believe in surprise endings simply for the sake of surprise endings. I call it the Woman’s Day twist, because when that mag used to run fiction, every week it was “Oh, it was a boy not a girl!” or “Oh, he was dead all along!” or “Oh, it was actually a dog not a person!” or “Oh, it was a kid not an adult!” or “Oh, they were from another planet!”. Seriously, week after week these ridiculous twists.
I tend to avoid those!
My kids love Bruce Coville. At the World Fantasy Convention in 2007, I got so excited seeing Bruce at the mass book signings I ignored my heroes Ramsey Campbell and Peter Straub!