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Thursday 18 Jul 2024

Finding the Idea
AJ Robinson

"I could do better" or two ideas meld into one.

Where does it come from, the little seed, the kernel of an idea that germinates, and grows into a full-blown story? As a writer, I face that challenge almost daily. Sometimes I luck out. I see a movie or television show that gives me an idea.

Sometimes it’s the classic, “Heck, I could write a better story than that!” Other times I see something. I connect it with something else I’ve seen or heard recently and merge the two. Presto, a new story idea is born!

The tough ones are the writing jobs. Someone comes along and gives me the old, “Oh, I’ve got a great idea for a movie, television show or book.” Yeah, I always know what that means: they have the idea, but I have to write it.

Now, to be fair, some people have actually come to me with decent outlines or they help with the writing. Those are the great clients! Far more give me a minimal story, and then I have to “fill in the blanks,” so to speak. Over the years, I’ve learned a trick to doing that.

Step one define the characters.

People don’t exist in a vacuum. By fleshing a character out, by making them as real as possible, I often get story ideas. Here’s an example.

I hired on to write a movie idea, a couple years ago. The “story” the client wanted, wasn’t a story, it was a character outline, a new superhero. I was given the job of coming up with a story, involving this character. That’s when I decided to define the man.

First, I gave him a name and parents. These days many characters are orphans or estranged from their parents. Me, I feel that’s a copout; I don’t like doing something just because it’s the standard of the day.

I also gave the character a little sister. I figured that would allow for sibling rivalry and some good family development. I named her Katrina and not after the hurricane. No, that way her big brother could tease her by calling her Brattina.

As this was to be a movie, I knew that we needed a good “hook.” Something, an opening scene, say, to grab the attention of the potential producers and the audience, eventually. The main character, Alan, was a superhero with eagle-like abilities, although flying was not among them.

I started from that point, and immediately locked on his super sight, as it was something visual. Now, for him to use that sight, he’d have to be outdoors and in a large open area. Then it came to me: the penthouse of a tall building.

I asked why he up there, in the penthouse. That’s when I brought in his dad. I figured that since his dad, Arthur, had created the potion that gave him his powers and made him a suit to allow him to fly, he had to be a scientific genius. Presto, again, an idea came to me: he and his dad were in some foreign country signing a business deal and the meeting was taking place atop the building.

That’s when the scene defined itself.

It was so simple. Alan would see a flash of light off in the distance, use his super vision to check it out and see an assassin with a rifle preparing to fire. He’d do the classic, “Excuse me, I need to make a phone call routine” and zip away from the group. Diving off the top of the building, great visual, right, he would transform into his superhero alter ego and fly off to vanquish the killer.

I figured, yeah, that’s a good opening. Granted, not all my stories come about that way, but I have found that defining characters is a good way of helping a story to grow. Just a little tip I thought I’d share. Hope you find it useful.


Combining the gimlet-eye of Philip Roth with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Working, again, as an engineeer, after years out of the field due to 2009 recession and slow recovery, Robinson finds time to write. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true. His teen vampire adventure novel, "Vampire Vendetta," will publish in 2020. Robinson continues to write books, screenplays and teleplays and keeps hoping for that big break.

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