This is a saying that usually only comes to mind when you’re thinking of weddings. But it popped into my head as I began the tricky process of brainstorming an idea for my next novel.
Now, I’m not what you’d call an “idea machine.” (Unless a toaster is a machine, because that’s how it works for me. One sliver of a thought goes in, cooks a while and eventually pops back up, usually underdone.) In other words, it’s a slow process for me. Ideas do not find me in the shower or in the car or on a walk. They do not find me period. I have to go hunting them.
Which is what I set out to do yesterday. As I sat in Einsteins with Daphne, my critique partner, I realized brainstorming ideas is a lot like that wedding custom.
Something old. This seems to be where I start– with all my half-baked ideas, partially formed in the past and still stuck in my brain like a layer of dust. I run through them hoping against hope that I’ll find new life in them. What I usually find is an old theme or question that I still find compelling. For me, it’s usually a question of identity–who am I? Who do I want to be? Most of us have certain themes — freedom, forgiveness, family (and other things not beginning with an “f”) that we care about. I’m reminded of mine, which is great, but what about character? Plot? Story? So my thinking shifts.
Something new. Where can I go that I’ve never gone before? I need something fresh…unique…never been done. But WHAT? I doodle pages of ideas and because of the way my brain works, I usually come up with the murky outline of a character I might want to write about. Someone I’ve never met but who intrigues me. And of course this person will have a problem that must be dealt with. This starts to feel promising, but what kind of problem? What’s happening in this person’s world? And suddenly ideas begin flooding my brain. Not old, not new.
Not even mine.
Something borrowed. The movie I watched last week suddenly springs to mind. The girl took a fall and now has short term memory loss. Could something similar work for my story? Or there was that book I read a few years back when the clock struck midnight and a portal to a night world opened. Is there a secret world to be found in my story? And oh, Grease is such a great play. Could I modernize the idea?
And on and on…
Which may be why that old expression popped into my head yesterday. It works for weddings–why can’t it work for writers? And no, I haven’t forgotten the final “something” in the expression. In fact, with a tiny change, it become the most important element of all to brainstorming a new idea:
Something old, Something new, Something borrowed…Something True.