ideas for fiction writing

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time…

…is the curious title of Mark Hadden’s book about a boy who sees the world in a curious way. Interestingly, the title is derived from a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle quote, when his character Sherlock Holmes deduces in Silver Blaze that a stranger could not be the killer due to the “curious incident of the dog in the night-time”.

Now, I don’t profess to know how Mark Hadden came up with his story, but I am going to propose that we dredge our imaginations for an idea by starting with a title.  True, it rightfully sounds backwards, but why not give it a try. It worked for Blaise Cendrars, who generally began with arriving at a title.

When I have my title, I give myself to reflection. Things pile up. A crystallization both conscious and unconscious is produced around the title and I write nothing solid as long as I don’t know everything about my characters, from the day of their birth to the day of their death, and can’t make them evolve in all circumstances possible and imaginable according to their character and their situations fictional or real. This can last for years. I take notes. In this way I build up dossiers stuffed with notes and sketches. They are imaginary and not factual. Factual documentation bothers me.

Set aside some time from your writing and brainstorm for novel titles.  Any odd phrase will do, so long as it is odd.  Or intriguing, or curious. So long as it piques your interest. If you need inspiration, turn to song lyrics, poetry, quotations. You might try playing with oxymorons—Alone in a Crowd, The Loners Club, etc. (True Lies is taken.)  How about some curious juxtapositions? It worked for Love in the Time of Cholera. Or you might check out existing book titles for inspiration.

Once you come up with a list of possibilities, choose your favorite and begin writing.  See how far you get, what you come up with. Again, it might not be this exact idea, but tracking a new and relatively random line of thought may lead you to the destination you’ve known all along was out there.

When I taught high school English, I used to start my classes with a fifteen minute workshop.  Sometimes the writing prompts I’d assign came from spur of the moment ideas, like the time I confiscated a student’s rubber Buddha with a personal fan projecting from its belly and insisted that their essays had to have said artifact in the story line.  Other times I would draw from a list I’d accumulated.  One day I gave the idiom No one remembers where he buried the hatchet as an opening line. Turns out, my students were unfamiliar with the phrase, and with fifteen minutes to write, no one took the time to figure it out. The passages they turned in were as varied as they were engaging.  Sometimes not knowing exactly what something is about becomes the apex on which one’s imagination spins.

If you’d prefer to start with an open line versus a book title, that works equally well. In fact, Joseph Heller wrote, “In the office in which I work, there are four people of whom I am afraid. Each of these four people is afraid of five people.”  He later said, from these two lines he discovered “a whole explosion of possibilities and choices.”  The end result—Something Happened.

Written by The UnNovelist
The Unnovelist