For the latest story that I had to write, I fell back to one of the classics of inspiration, at least, for me. That’s David Mamet’s formula:
1. Who wants what from whom?
2. What happens if he (she) doesn’t get it?
3. Why now?
I can’t go into any particulars for the story I just finished, not until after something happens with it, either it’s sold or I decide to bring it out myself.
However, I have written an entire novel following this format–Zydeco Queen and the Creole Fairy Courts.
The premise of the novel was sparked by this formula, namely, that Francine wants/needs her papa’s love & attention, but he’s grieving too hard (why now) to give it to her. And what happens as the result of that–Francine going off with the fairies to fiddle at their court.
As I wrote that novel, every time I got stuck in a scene or a chapter, I went back to that formula, figuring out what it was that Francine wanted and what the consequences were when she didn’t get it.
It was an interesting way to continue to generate tension throughout the novel, to make sure that the main character was always striving and yet, always being frustrated. It created great try/fail cycles.
I know other people who hate that formula. Using it is very, very foreign to their process, how they generate story. For me, I think it’s a useful tool. Not a Swiss Army Knife, but a specialized tool. I wouldn’t use it for every story or novel, but every once in a while, it’s handy to be able to pull it out.
How about you? Do you have some special secret sauce for generating story every now and again?