Story Inspiration Sunday


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?





Story Inspiration Sunday — 8 Comments

  1. I like the first Mamet quote a lot, although I admit that it’s the sort of thing I apply more in revision than in first draft. Mostly, when I get stuck, what happens if I pull this thread. Which may be the same exact formula, but works better for the way my brain functions.

    I would amend Mamet’s second statement (regarding pie) to say “unless you are a pie maker uncertain of your skill with crust.” In which case stress can be very high indeed.

    • The words we use for our own processes are so very important. It may, to an outsider, seem as though we’re talking about the same thing. But like you, I use very precise language to describe to myself what I’m talking about.

    • I adore chocolate. Am a chocolate snob. Last night, threw my second annual Chocolate and Wine Tasting Party. I do like pie, but it is a far, far distant option when there’s good chocolate on the table.

      I like to experiment with different styles of idea generation, so I would say go for it, or at least try it.

  2. It can be really fun to smash all possibility of getting what he wants. Then the story has to dig deeper into what his underlying motives are for that thing. . .

    Or, of course, to complicate matters by considering why he does NOT want to get what he wants to get. Internal conflict. Always lovely.

  3. The most important of these questions is the last one. Why now? Why is this particular desire or frustration (life is full of them, after all) the most important one? This, BWT, is the major flaw with Neil Gaiman’s latest, THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE. Somewhere towards the end he reveals that all the incidents of the book have happened more than once and will happen again. Immediately you want to know, then why are we hearing about this one?

    • I hadn’t thought about ranking them, but you may be right about the last being the most important.

      And I agree with you about recurring incidents that way–like recurring lives–what makes this one so much more important than all the others?