An Idea From An Image

Posted: September 23, 2013 in ideas, Living and Life, Novel, Writing
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

In a recent interview for his new book Joyland, Stephen King mentioned that one way he starts a story is that he starts with an image. In the case of Joyland, the image was of a boy on a beach with the sun setting. It took a couple of years apparently, but that image expanded to include a theme park and that’s how His Scary Highness came up with what would become a summer bestseller.

These past 24 hours I had a similar experience that allowed me to come up with an idea for a story. It started last night as I was going to bed. I was hypnotizing myself to sleep (yes, I know how to do that) and one of the commands I gave myself to help facilitate sleep was to let random images form in my head, “as if from a dream”. And among the images that formed was one that just struck me in a deep, deep way, like a line from a book that seems to resonate with you on so many levels, that for reasons you can’t understand, you find that becoming your favorite line in the whole story.

I wish I had an illustration or something to show you what I saw in my head. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to draw an illustration, let alone draw one and scan it into my computer, so I’ll try to describe it for you as best as I can: a girl, in her mid-to-late teens, with shoulder-length blonde hair and a black crown on her head with two twisting spires poking up to the sky. She wore a glittering black dress, like Glinda the Good Witch gone Goth. She stood on a glowing white staircase made of glass, and stars were shining aroundher. Her smile was warm and confident, and her eyes were alive with happiness.

Amazing what sort of things you can get from dreams. Am I right?

Well, you know me. If I can get an idea for a story, I will. So I quickly added to those hypnosis instructions, “If you see something you think you can use for a story someday, you will remember it in the morning.” When I woke up the next morning, I didn’t remember the image at first, but I did remember as the day went on. And as I had a rather unusual day (don’t ask, you don’t want to know), I had plenty of opportunities to develop a story from this image.

I thought that the image would work best at the end of the story, I had to figure out how to get this story from the beginning to the end. For that matter, I needed a beginning! Not too hard, I have a way with coming up with sh*t situations to put characters in at the start of their stories. I thought of a way for this girl in the black dress to start out, even gave her a name that I thought suited her. Then I worked on a catalyst…how about she meets a guy? No, it’s been done. Attacked by a monster? No, I’ve used that for stories before. Let’s go back to meetings. What meeting haven’t I used yet? Oh, that one will work (I can’t say what because that would give away just too much).

So what next? We’ve got a set-up. What happens after that fateful meeting? Something happens, something scary. Should I use an original mythology of my own making or taken from someone else’s mythology? Let’s go with the latter. Greco-Roman? Jewish? Celtic? Egyptian? Japanese? Native American? Okay, why not a combination? Mix and match…now we’re cooking.

In the end I manage to come up with a pretty nice story that uses some interesting monsters from mythology, come up with some interesting ideas for characters, conflicts, and even a monster or two (or three). And I wish I could go into details here, but that would give away too much. You wouldn’t want to read the book when I actually write it.

Did I actually do something he couldn’t? Probably not. But it’s nice to think so.

But isn’t it amazing? One image, and I have a wonderful idea for a story. I wasn’t sure exactly if you could come up with a story like King said he did, but I ended up doing the exact same thing…while saving a lot of time. I mean, King took years to come up with Joyland! I’m glad I saved the time on coming up with the story. And I hope someday I can do it again.

In the meantime, I’ve got a chapter of Laura Horn to start. I seem to have all the time in the world to come up with ideas, but none of the time to actually turn them into full-length novels. I should use the time when I get it.

Has this ever happened to you? How did it work out?

  1. halftangible says:

    Reblogged this on HalfTangible's Desk and commented:
    I don’t think I’ve ever gotten an entire story from a single image, as you describe here, but I’ve gotten characters from it. For instance:
    -A man with arrows of light and a bow of gold. The image is seen from the side, with only one shut eye visible, and yet I know that both are shut. He is in a forest, and only the shadows greet him. This is Silent Mask, my Night Caste exalted (Later I found out that the image in my head was pretty much taken from Keychain of Creation… except the previous archer was a deathknight. And a girl)
    -A pegasus pony, singing and dancing with a microphone in one hoof. His left wing is metal, and lightning strikes the ground around him. The world seems to swirl, and colors are in high contrast (either very dark or very bright). This is Lone Star, a pegasus juggernaut who can sing to warp reality around him.
    -A city on a cliff, of white stone. At the bottom of the cliff lay an azure sea, and from a high tower shines a golden light. In the distance, I see a forest, and I feel… at peace. This is Lampide, city of Onore the sun goddess.
    Things like that.

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