So, where do story ideas come from?
For me they come from odd observations, or maybe they aren’t really odd – they are just intriguing enough to spark something in my brain that then opens a door to a place that holds the words and images that, when I finally get around to piecing them together, will tell (what I hope to be) an entertaining story for someone else to read.
For example 12395.
Just a number, right?
Sure, but follow the thought process of an oddball writer.
According to a segment on the WhatCulture youtube channel, they ask – how many days does Bill Murray’s character, Phil Conners, spend stuck in Punxsutawney in the film Groundhog Day?
The answer they give is 12395. That’s a total of 33 years and 350 days.
That’s how long it takes for the character to change, from selfish to selfless, to go through his dramatic arc. It’s not said outright in the film that is the actual length of time it takes, and the director Harold Ramis has said not even he knows how many days Phil is stuck in the same day over and over and over again. But the fine folks over at WhatCulture have delved into the issue and have given us the answer of 12395.
That’s a long time.
In the film we see snippets of Phil’s journey. Because our brain fills in those moments we don’t see, it’s easy to imagine all the scenarios Phil goes through in order to come to grips with what’s happening to him. We see him go from hating it, to accepting it, to taking advantage of it, bored of it, moments we would all probably experience ourselves in one way or another. And we also witness the two arcs that speak to our hearts – the courtship of Annie McDowell’s character, and Phil’s doomed attempt to save a homeless man from death.
In the space of two hours we watch him live through this hellish and yet enlightening experience, which if the number is correct – 12395 days of self-realization and growth.
And that got me thinking. What would you do with almost 34 years if you had it to live over again?
Now, I don’t want to steal the premise from the film, living one day over and over in order to learn something about yourself. I’m not even sure if the story I would write has anything to do with learning about yourself or being stuck in time or anything of that nature. I was simply struck by the number – 12395.
It could be a measure of time. Distance. A street address. A zip code? Maybe its a number the protagonist sees again and again, and it starts to drive him mad. Or maybe its the number of broken hearts that someone or something is collecting. It could be the number of bricks in a building, and that building has thousands upon thousands of tales to tell.
Or maybe the character is told he has exactly 12395 days to live, that from that very moment he has just shy of 34 years of life left. He/She won’t die from accident or disease, their time is pre-ordained.
We all seem to float through life as though we have an infinite number of days – and that’s not really our fault. There’s a lot to deal with day-to-day. Responsibilities and obligations and just stuff we have to get through, and so we have a tendency to just “get through” and mark it off the calendar at the end of the day. But if you knew, as an absolute, that you had so many days left – would you keep doing what you are doing now?
I may or may not get around to writing anything about 12395. But its something that made me sit up in my chair and wonder – and wondering leads to all sorts of open doors.
And that’s where it all begins.