I’m going to start talking about plots by quoting an incredibly smug man who makes the seemingly proud boast that he has only ever read one book.
(An article I read the other day said that President Trump is only thought to have read three pieces of fiction. And you really don’t want to be behind Donald Trump in the well-read stakes.)
This man who claims to have only read one book?
It is largely insufferable and very much past his prime, Ricky Gervais.
But the reason I bring him up, and will now quote from him, is his rationale for why he hasn’t read more:
“I open a book, I’ll read the first line, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…’ I think, ‘Ooh, that’s a good starter’, then I’m off on my own ideas.”
Now, I think everybody should have read more than one book (although, I would say that, wouldn’t I?), but if you’re thinking creatively, then that strategy is not a bad one to adopt.
Let’s say you’re watching a show on Netflix and it has a compulsive first scene with great characters who respond to instantly. It’ll be tough, as you’ll want to know what happens next, but maybe just pause it for a minute and work out where you’d take the characters next if you were in charge. Don’t necessarily write anything down, but think through – from that starting point – where you’d go with the story.
When you press play again, you can then compare your version with their version. There’s a fair to good chance that since we live in the golden age of TV and this show is made by professionals who have persuaded hard-headed businessmen to give them millions of dollars, that their plot will be better than yours. But you may surprise yourself. You may hit an idea which is better and sleeker and which you’d much rather watch. Or you might think of an equally interesting direction the show could have taken. Or you may have just thought of a nugget, some little twist of the plot that isn’t there.
Once you’re thinking creatively about what’s in front of you, then you can get to the end of the show and write down what your idea would have been, what your nugget would have been, and build it out. You can start working with your version of those characters – putting them in a room and having them confront each other – and start creating a story.
In one way, Ricky Gervais is right, if you are getting inspiration – no matter from where – then you should be using it. Don’t worry, it’s not stealing, it’s having your creativity open to all the ideas around you.
Next time – Why you should actually be stealing.
My debut novel, THE WANNABES – which has been out of print for a little while – is now available for free! A supernatural thriller of beautiful actresses and deadly ambition in London town, it’s well worth your time. You can get your copy here!