by Daniel Ausema
Beyond that, there are two seemingly contradictory impulses that I try to cultivate in myself. The first is not to dismiss any idea right away. A story kernel--or for that matter, any idea for creating depth and detail within the story--might initially seem too ridiculous to take seriously. Often those ridiculous things turn out to be just what the story needs, if I just look at them sideways. Whether you want to think of it as a muse or something mystic or the role of the subconscious, the story often benefits from taking what seems silly or simple and just accepting that for the moment, filing it back into my mind, and then asking the question, "And then what?" It's like the classic improv comedy guideline: you never say "no," but always say "yes, and..." Take what you're given or what you come up with and then run from there.
At the same time, the second impulse I try to develop is to reach for the second or third idea. Sometimes the obvious, first thought is a dead-end after all, one that will leave the idea as simple as it seemed at first. Always reaching, always asking one more question after I think that I've solved a plot tangle. This doesn't have to be an agonizing, second-guessing sort of slog. A writing group I'm part of will often have intense one-hour writing prompts, and often the stories that come from it that I'm most pleased with are the ones where I ignore the first thing that comes to mind and reach for that idea just beyond it, the one that pushes the story a little further and more unexpected than I'd first imagined.
And always beneath (or above?) it all is an open curiosity. It's where the ideas, simple or not, come from in the first place and where the development of those ideas finds its traction. I'm deliberately and insatiably curious about all manner of things--people and plants, social customs and geological structures--and that curiosity gives the raw material for all sorts of stories.
Daniel Ausema has a background in journalism and experiential education and is now a stay-at-home dad. His fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous publications, including two issues of Penumbra. He lives in Colorado, a land of micro-brews, river rafting, and mountain wildfires.
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