MacGyvering a Story Part I: Developing the Idea

On the TV show MacGyver, the title character comes up with creative solutions by picking things up along the way and making something with them.  That’s the process for writing a story without using an outline.

It starts with letting the idea gel.  I write a short summary of what I think the story will be about.  Then I try another summary, and another, changing the story into different directions–whatever I think of.  Most of the characters don’t have names at this point.

Then I’ll see a newspaper article, or a book, or go to the museum and BANG!  The idea takes a sharp turn in an entirely different direction.  Everything changes in an instant, becoming a different story than what I started with.

But what do I know about it?  Only very broad aspects–the story will be set in X; the main character’s name is X; there’s going to be a fight on an island or a mountain.  I don’t know any major events, who the bad guy is, or even most of the character names.  Even the definition of the story itself hasn’t solidified yet.

For anyone who MacGyvers a story, what’s your process for developing the idea?

3 thoughts on “MacGyvering a Story Part I: Developing the Idea

  1. I think the difference between the story making process and MacGyvers approach is that he can only use the tools he has immediately around him. As writers, if we don’t have what we need we can research, move around and find additional stimulus.
    Still, it sounds like a fun game. Locking someone in a room with a random assortment of junk and not letting them out until they’ve written a story. Could be a fun exercise (without the whole locking up part).


    1. Mostly I do use the tools around me, rather than go and search for it. An example: I read two newspapers a day. One of the them did a review of an art show downtown that was on the more unusual side. The artist used imported sand to create swirling images on the floor. Because I happened to be working on a scene that involved art, I picked that up along the way and dropped it into the scene as a way to show how people could have very different perspectives on art.


  2. I like that term. Now each time I think of non-outlined stories, they’ll be MacGyvered.

    Outlining works for me, but I’m always open to new ideas and concepts at the start (towards the end, those become a little more difficult to incorporate). The different elements – a fight scene, a fire, a battle, a confession, etc – move around in my head like a dance that’s being choreographed right there on the ballroom floor.

    Other images and ideas join in, but if they don’t contribute to the dance they have to sit it out.


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