So there I was one lazy afternoon watching the reasonably bad movie Meteor when I asked myself, What if a teenager had to cope with the world coming to an end?
The next thing I knew (within weeks really), I was writing Life As We Knew It.
I tell this tawdry tale partly to feed my Google Alert system, and partly to show that ideas for stories are around us all the time. We just have to be receptive to them.
Last night I thought about movies that my beloved slowly gained readership would be familiar with, and finally settled on The Bad News Bears. Whether you've seen it or not, you know it. Its theme, which is one that doesn't resonate with me hardly at all, is Misfits Come Together As A Team And Achieve Success. We'll call the theme Team as a time saver.
Team is a very popular theme in movies. Of course there are the various sports Team movies, such as The Mighty Ducks and Major League. But emotionally troubled misfits come together to solve a crime in The Dream Team. Misfits win World War Two in The Dirty Dozen. Misfits make music together in School Of Rock and unite to cheerlead against great odds in Bring It On (okay, most cheerleaders aren't really misfits). These are all movies with Team as their theme.
Here's the basic plot of The Bad News Bears: There's a kids' baseball team that doesn't play well. Walter Matthau is hired to coach. He brings in Tatum O'Neal (I had to look that up; I thought it was Jodie Foster), who's a great pitcher. A juvenile delinquent in training joins the team, the kids all learn to play together, and victory ultimately is theirs (although Jodie Foster ended up with a better career than Tatun O'Neal).
Here's all you need to do to make The Bad News Bears the story you want to tell. You just look at it from a different angle and play the What If game.
What if you're the pitcher Tatun O'Neal replaces?
What if you're inept and you stay inept even as your team gets better?
What if your dad is the coach and you hate baseball but he insists you join the team?
What if you love the sport but you're part of a gang and the cops haul you in for questioning the day of the big game?
What if you're the best player on the team and you get hurt the day of the game and the team goes on to win without you?
What if you're thrown off the team because you miss practice?
What if you flat out hate the coach?
What if you're a pretty good ballplayer and then your game suffers because you fall in love with Tatun O'Neal?
What if your team goes on to win the Little League World Series and you go back to school as heroes?
What if your team goes on to lose the Little League World Series and you go back to school as losers?
What if your team makes it to the Little League World Series and gets disqualified because one team member is a cheat?
What if your team makes it to the Little League World Series and you're falsely accused of being a cheat?
What if the only way your team can make it to the championship is if you do cheat?
What if there's a plane crash/ bus crash/ train crash/ car crash and one or more of your teammates is killed?
Even I, not particularly responsive to Team, could have fun with a few of these possibilities (the ones that involve Consequences or Family).
So to come up with a basic plot for your story, all you have to do is determine the themes you respond to most deeply. Then, using as an inspiration one of the books or movies that showcase that theme, start asking What If. Most likely you'll go through a whole bunch of What Ifs before you find the right one for you, and that's as it should be. Bill Lancaster, who wrote The Bad News Bears, probably went through any number of What Ifs before he was satisfied.
You think this is easy? You're right, it is. Next stop, Characters, and they're easy also.