In mid-2007, not long after the birth of my daughter, I experienced a severe bout of writer’s block. I had no ideas, and nothing I did seemed to help. At best, I could only manage half an idea. Characters without plots. Scenarios that existed in story voids. Neat settings with nothing happening in them. I was frustrated and pessimistic. For a while there, I thought maybe the well was running dry.
Something I’m going to call “concept mashup” got me through it. Concept mashup is when I take two (or more) different ideas that are going nowhere fast, and forcibly combine them. It works better — for me, at least — the less related the concepts are. I’m not going to get anything out of a fairy-tale/medieval history mashup, because there’s no friction there. But medieval history/nano-technology? Hmmm. Now there might be some possibilities.
I need the friction. I think everyone who writes speculative fiction — and most every other form of fiction — does. In fact, I think it’s an integral component of storytelling on multiple levels. Friction is what drives the heroine to resist and overthrow the despot, freeing the kingdom. Friction is the resistance from her enemy’s minions she encounters along the way. Without friction, there’s no story.
At a higher level, concept mashups generate the necessary friction for me, the writer, so I can maintain interest and finish the story. I’m most engaged and enthralled — and most productive — when I’m writing at the juncture of ideas. It’s like genetics in animals; the strongest offspring are the ones whose parents are from very diverse backgrounds, while it’s the purebreds that suffer the most problems.
Try it for yourself. Take two ideas that have been bouncing around in your head, rub them together, and see what happens. Have an idea for a candy forest, but don’t have anyone to put in it? See what happens when you add that necromancer character you’ve been meaning to put somewhere. Ask yourself, “What’s a magician of the dead doing in a child’s fantasy land?”
You want to know, don’t you. Friction.