Wednesday, December 21, 2011
The Fantastic Idea Machine
Make a list of your twenty favorite movies and books. They don't all necessarily have to be your ultra-uber-favorites, but have a favorite something in each of them. If you didn't like the movie but the concept intrigued you, throw it in there. Or maybe you hated the ending but you really liked the everything before the ending. Throw it in there.
Then, make a list of fairy tales. Or, use mine:
Hansel and Gretel
The Princess and the Frog
The Goose Girl
Little Red Riding Hood
The Gingerbread Man
Beauty and the Beast
Jack and the Beanstalk/Jack the Giant Killer
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
The Little Mermaid
Goldilocks and the Three Bears
Now. You've got your lists all written out. Get two blank pieces of paper, and write the lists again - only, place them in random locations all over the page. On the edge. Upside down. Messy. Okay? No order, rhyme, or reason.
Find a friend who has a sense of humor and an imagination. This friend does not have to be a writer. In fact, I think it might be better if she isn't. That way you'll get all the sweet ideas to yourself. But make sure she has a sense of humor, because that will make this fun, and if you're having fun, your ideas will have more freedom to be genius.
Give her one of the papers, and sit across from each other. Each of you silently pick out a story title from the mess of words on your paper. When you've both picked one (it doesn't matter how you pick) then one of you speak up.
Machine Participant One: "<states movie or book title> meets..."
Machine Participant Two: "<states fairytale title>."
And you have your story concept.
The first time I ran the Machine, we spent most of the time cracking up at the ridiculous combinations we got. That alone made it totally worth it. "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs meets Nacho Libre" was one of the favorites. Don't judge. I like that movie. Of course, you've got to follow the idea past the combo phrase - toss it back and forth for a bit, and then toss it out when it's obvious it would never work as more than a clever joke.
But, sooner or later, you're going to get a combination which will give you a little zap that says 'Hey. I'm a cool idea. You love me. You must write me. I am brilliant.' It will get you carried away while you're brainstorming it - you might even forget The Machine for a while in your excitement.
Write those ones down. Also write down the ones that make you laugh the hardest. And the ones that give you chills. And the ones that would be really, really fun to pitch to an agent. You know which ones.
Here were my personal favorites from my first run of The Machine. I share them with you because I love you.
I Am Legend... meets Hansel and Gretel. Two wily children follow a trail of clues through a city empty of everything but starving feral vampires... and find a benevolent stranger who is not so benevolent after all.
Pirates of the Caribbean meets Snow White. Snow White and the Seven Pirates. A king's daughter is taken to a scummy port town to be killed by the Queen's hit man... but she escapes him by stowing away on a ship. The only problem? You guessed it. It's a pirate ship. Now the king's daughter must use all her cunning, charm, and bargaining skills to survive - and perhaps win over - the captain and crew. And heaven help her when the Queen finds out she's not dead. Who's the fairest in the land? The Queen of course. But at sea? Well...
Zorro meets Cinderella. The Godmother, frankly, is a little sick of pink silk and lace. And she's sick of the wicked step-people oppressing the peasants. You're going to need some backbone for the escapades ahead, Cindy. You'll also need a sword. Figure out how to make a 'C' look cool when slashed into random objects and you've got it made, girl.
Jumanji meets The Brothers Grimm. Maybe getting that strange fairy-tale themed boardgame out of the attic wasn't such a good notion, kids. Just don't roll the big bad wolf, if you can help it. (This was one of those ideas that didn't need a combo - it came during the brainstorming process. There are other ideas like that - brainstorming creatively in one way leads to things unexpected.)
Try it. You'll like it. And when you've tried it, make your own expansion pack - try running The Machine with a list of classic Greek stories, or Shakespeare plays, or Star Trek episodes. Whatever floats your pirate ship. :)