Back in So Where DO You Get Your Story Ideas? I was making the point that “ideas” as such really weren’t the issue most of the time. The trick was to recognize a story when you saw one. I don’t take back any of that, but it occurred to me that it wouldn’t hurt to clarify a bit. Some people, especially in the beginning of their development, tend to confuse “story idea” with the story itself, as in, boom, you get the idea, and the story immediately springs to mind, fully grown, like Athena sprouting from the brow of Zeus, and that’s not happening, therefore you’re just not getting story ideas, and What’s Wrong With Me!!?? If you find yourself in that particular panicky death spiral, take a breath, relax, and try to understand that, odds are, there’s nothing at all wrong with you. What you lack isn’t brains, or imagination, but experience. Brains and imagination, so far as I know, you either have or you don’t. Experience is something you have to earn.
Just to be clear, I’m not saying that stories don’t sometimes appear fully grown and ready to be written down. It does happen, and it’s a grade A rush. But it’s not a story idea, it’s the story. Not the same thing at all. If it was, then recognizing a story idea would never be a problem. In truth, you’d have to be pretty dense, tired, or distracted to miss one. Usually, they’re a bit more subtle. I tend to think of story ideas like a light switch in a dark room. You fumble around a bit, find the switch and recognize it for what it is, flip it on and bang! Illumination. Now you can see what you need to see to do what you have to do. If what you’ve found really is a story idea, then that flash of illumination will always follow. That’s how you know you were right, but the initial recognition is the crucial step, and we’re back to that. How do you recognize a story? I said some things last time that I think were true enough, but when you boil them all down to essence, there’s only one way to learn how to recognize a story.