Sunday, June 19, 2011

HOW TO CREATE AND USE MIND-STRETCHING CONCEPTS

PART I

Hi, I’m John Rosenman (www.johnrosenman,com), and here are a few of my plots:

• Every time 6’6”, muscular mutant Michael has sex, he changes into dainty, 5’2” blond Michelle; to change back into Michael, he has to have sex again. What will he do when he meets the girl of his dreams? (When I Was Michelle)

• Happily married, Rachel contracts a mysterious disease which causes everyone, including her husband, to fear and shun her; what will her body – and mind – ultimately turn into?
(The Blue of Her Hair, the Gold of Her Eyes, MuseItUp Publishing)

• A middle-aged American art teacher with mediocre talent visits the Sistine Chapel with his wife and has a vision that he is the reincarnation of Michelangelo. (A Spark from God’s Finger)

In some fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy, big, imaginative concepts can add spice, attract interest, and generate sales. If used well, they can make the difference between a good story and a great one. In the three short stories above, I have tried to do just that by following certain principles:

1. The big concept must be integral to the story and interrelated with a well-rounded character we care about. In other words, the concept can’t be a mere gimmick involving a cardboard figure. Thus, “When I Was Michelle” explores the complexities of gender orientation and the nature of love while hopefully making the reader care about Michael’s (or is it Michelle’s?) attempts to find romantic happiness and fulfillment at the end of a dark emotional tunnel.

2. Sometimes, the big concept should be tied to a mystery that keeps your readers reading until the very end. We have all had diseases, for example, but what about an ultimate disease that people are even afraid to whisper about? In “The Blue of Her Hair, the Gold of Her Eyes,” I try to do an exponential riff on the subject of sickness. Take the deadliest disease you can imagine and multiply it a hundred times. What would be its final manifestation, and what will happen to the person afflicted with it? What, finally, makes it so horrifying?

3. Sometimes, the big concept requires research and local color detail. This is the case with “A Spark from God’s Finger.” It helped, of course, that I actually toured Rome and visited the Sistine Chapel, but I had to do some research on both as well, plus bone up on Michelangelo’s life and artistic practices.

4. Finally, of course, your treatment of the concept must be ORIGINAL and DIFFERENT. This is especially the case with Science Fiction, a speculative genre where certain themes and ideas have been explored endlessly. A writer doesn’t want to lavish a lot of effort to reinventing the wheel. So, do your homework and read widely to know what’s already been done, and what you have to do to make your fiction seem fresh and new.

Part II to come . . .

4 comments:

Heather Haven said...

Posting this for John and I am intrigued by the concept of changing genders as one has sex. That has to be really hard on the underwear.

John B. Rosenman said...

To say nothing about the libido, Heather. Thanks again for posting.

Rosalie Skinner said...

I like the idea of not spending too much time re inventing the wheel. As tempting as it is when writing Fantasy, I find familiarity helps keep the reader comfortable, while you can still expand on reality.
You have some great plots. Well presented concepts. That's something I find hard to do, putting a novel in a nutshell.
Great article.

John B. Rosenman said...

Thanks, Rosalie. I appreciate it. In general, readers do like at least a little familiarity.