A short while back, I listened to a T.V. screenwriter explain his process while making the series Colony.
Carlton Cuse described a large room filled with writers throwing ideas around the room that bounced off of one another and grew bigger, taking shape and then forming storylines. The creator of the series Lost told the interviewer he could not say who came up with the idea to have the occupying sympathizers drive black SUVs. It was group think at its most creative.
My writing is not often like that. I sit alone at a desk with stacks of papers and only my herd of cats climbing over a labrador to give me any feedback most of the time.
But this week I watched my family come up with some new ideas that gave me a glimpse of what it might be like to work in an idea-bouncing environment.
I have three cats, in case you managed to avoid my onslaught of kitty pics last year.
Two are black medium-haired males and the third is a calico about half the size of the other two. Their official names are Ash, Jack, and Sissy.
One day, my husband and I sat on the couch watching the two boys wrestle , biting and flipping over one another, laying their ears back and then pouncing.
“Where’s Private?” my husband asked, as if the calico resembled the smallest cutest penguin in the Madagascar series.
I laughed at the idea of comparing cats to the penguin pseudo-military group but it did fit.
Later I told my teenager and we began to riff on how the other two might belong to the Madagascar escapee organization.
“Well,” Kieran said. “Ash is like a cross between Kowalski and Skipper.”
We agreed he is the most brilliant of the lot and most like a leader of the group at the same time.
And Jack. Jack the thirteen pound moose-cat is most like Rico. No question.
I can see why Cuse likes the back and forth of writing because I loved this cat-penguin analogy game with my family. The energy was loose and free and nothing but fun. If a connection didn’t work, we tossed it and moved on.
Sometimes I feel a similar sort of creative fire in my writing critique groups when we are at our best. After we have read each other’s stories for long enough, we begin to feel connected to the work in a way that is a little deeper than someone who only gives the story a one time read through. Everyone relaxes (even the writer having her ideas knocked around) and the creativity goes up a notch.
As I come skidding into my latest deadline, I hope to work a little more like I did in the penguin-cat games. (And I am finally skidding along! Hurray!)
May you find friends and family to stir up ideas-