Guest post: Turning disappointment into ideas by M.C.A Hogarth

I found Maggie through her writing, and stayed around for her beautiful art.  She has a love affair with cats and aliens, and writes beautiful stories about both.  I invited her to speak today about creativity, and she’s brought up an interesting twist.  Read on to find out what disappointment can do for your inspiration.

The other day I tossed yet another book half-read with that Feeling: you know, the one that’s a mix of disgust, boredom and disappointment. It’s that plot “twist” that’s all the rage lately, so it’s about as twisty as limp spaghetti; or it’s the narrator who has the same personal problems as all her clones (“get over your intimacy issues already!”); or it’s the mercenaries portrayed as nice guys or the kings who can’t seem to prosecute a war or, or, or…

We all have our pet peeves. And our pet peeves often lead us to our most interesting story ideas.

To demonstrate, one of my irritations lately is that science fiction and fantasy is dominated by adolescent or young-adult protagonists with few or no family ties. Adventures are the sole province of the young, or so countless stories seem to tell us. Coming-of-age is so popular you’re hard-pressed to find an adult over thirty in the lot, after rejuvenation therapy and extended elven lifespans are taken into account.

So I got to thinking. How would you tell a cool fantasy story involving families?

Maybe… maybe magic comes only to parents. What would that look like? A bunch of bored and antsy teens eager to shack up and have kids just to get the awesome magical powers, that’s what it would look like. The inevitable consequence of requiring parenthood to be a wizard is probably the wreck of society unless society instills some pretty hefty penalties for begetting a kid with a pal and then abandoning them so you can go fly on magic carpets.

I bet there are still a lot of young people deciding to have families for the wrong reasons, though. I toy with the idea of telling a story about someone settling down, not for love, but for power. A desperate boy who wants to be Somebody. A determined girl who’s wanted magic all her life but couldn’t have it. They make a pact to fulfill each other’s needs….

Nah, boring. Expected. Hard to really care about.

…but the product of that business-like arrangement, the daughter or son who got discarded on the route to magic? Oh wow. What’s his or her story? I bet s/he grows up a radical, someone who believes magic is a crutch, or a temptation that corrupts. I bet s/he’s bitter, and doesn’t believe in love or family. I bet s/he becomes a great adventurer, using wits and hard-honed physical and mental skills to resolve problems that hitherto for only magicians were considered qualified to fix. Now that’s a story I’d read.

…particularly if s/he met someone special. Someone good and kind and… yes, someone who believed in magic, but also love….

One little irritation, one little pet peeve… built a world and populated it with people and gave me not just one character, but a protagonist, a love interest, and their parents.

Disappointment, then, is a fantastic creative tool. Every time you want to throw a book across a room, every time you roll your eyes, every time you sigh and think ‘well, that’s now how I would have done it,’ that’s when you pick up a pen or get to the keyboard. That’s when you play what-if: What if you gutted the story of that plot-twist that’s all the rage now? How would you up the stakes? What if the snarky narrator didn’t have the intimacy problems all her clones do? What would drive her inner conflicts? What if the mercenaries were borderline sociopaths who change allegiance at the drop of a coin? What if the king was actually competent for once?

What if? What if?

So, here’s my question: what were the last three things that made you roll your eyes; close a book; say, ‘Oh, for pity’s sake”? Write them down. And then, think about how that story might have been written to satisfy you. Three moments of disappointment. Three ideas born of them. Give it a try!

M.C.A. Hogarth has been many things—web database architect, product manager, technical writer and massage therapist—but is currently a parent, artist, writer and anthropologist to aliens.  You can find Maggie at her website, her journal and on Twitter.  And don’t forget to check out her fantastic resource for self-employed artists and writers, The Three Micahs.

What do you think, readers?  Have you ever been inspired by an awful story?

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9 thoughts on “Guest post: Turning disappointment into ideas by M.C.A Hogarth

  1. Pingback: Creativity workshop: the end, and thank you | Not Enough Words

  2. Brilliant idea, Maggie! I’ll certainly try this on some books that made me roll my eyes in frustration. I like your process, and the way you described it was so very clear and helpful. :)

    By the way, Merrilee, love the new header. Such a cutie.

  3. Excellent post. There have been a lot of times when that happened to me, though I’ve never really considered turning them into plots because usually they’re just very small parts of the larger plot that wouldn’t really stand alone on their own. But the next time I run into one that makes me close a book in disgust, I’ll take this into consideration.

    Oh, and I really like the sound of the story you described. If you haven’t written it yet, you should.

  4. Oh, nicely done!

    I was disappointed with vampires being all sparkly and emo, so I decided to write a story with vampires who eat internal organs.

    So I hear ya, good lady. I hear ya. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go eviscerate someone.

    (I mean in fiction, of course. Yes.)

  5. Pingback: Ninja viruses, interesting posts, and other stuff | Chaos of LCD and Co.

  6. This is a *great* post! The last book I was really disappointed by I was expecting to be disappointed by (a Ken Follett thriller my dad had been telling me to read for ages) so I wasn’t really thinking about what was bothering me… but it’s definitely a tactic I should use when reading other frustrating books. Very interesting way to turn negativity on its head — I almost feel inspired to read something bad if only to come up with a better idea!

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