Make a Batch of Primordial Soup


**This post is part of the Primordial Soup series**

Flickr - Build Blocks - kmtucker

The goal of this series is to help writers tap into the near limitless wealth of their own memories.  Analyzing and organizing this information for better creation of characters, plots, and emotional textures.

One popular theory about how life was created on Earth is Primordial Soup, in which the early oceans were teeming with amino acids—also known as the building blocks of life—that eventually turned into proteins which created the first life forms.

Whether or not you agree with it, the concept is very useful to writers.  Imagine a massive pot of "soup" filled with every bit of life experience you have, mixed together with the spices of perspective and opinion, and brought to a roaring boil.  This heady mixture would make for some serious material in any writing endeavor you undertake. 

The problem is memory can be a fickle mistress.  You’ll want to recall some exciting tidbit only to be stumped by the fog that tends to seep into your head.  What can you do to get around the inconsistencies of recollection?

Write it down.

Sounds so simple its laughable, but honestly, it’s the best way to mine the data swimming in your mind.  Building a "primordial soup" file can result in a treasure trove of fodder for your fiction.  Once the groundwork is laid, this blueprint can be grown into a well tended garden, with little bits added to it as you remember, eventually flourishing with the richness of your memories.

Here are some simple steps to start your own batch of fertile inspiration.  I’ll go over tools to setup your "soup" and a seed to begin the process.


A notebook full of scribbles might feel like a great start, but will quickly become useless when you can’t add to it or understand it.  In order to best use your "primordial soup" you have to organize it in a meaningful and easy to update manner.

OneNote _64

Microsoft OneNote has always been a favorite of mine.  The best digital notebook I’ve ever encountered, it allows you to organize you data in easy to manipulate sections comprised of individual pages.  Cut & paste something from the web and the URL will follow along.  Move text around free from any margins or constraints.  Swap pages between notebooks with no loss of formatting or data.  Combining DropBox with OneNote, I have access to all my writings no matter what machine I’m on.

Mind mapping is another useful way of hashing out your memories.  Much more visual than an outline, this method can help you better understand how your experiences are linked together.  I’ve always been partial to Mindjet Manager, but the price tag might be prohibitive.  In that case you should try some of these alternatives.

Notebooks aren’t bad, but keeping them organized and then manipulating the information they contain is troublesome.  How many times have we heard of authors with stacks of notebooks just collecting dust in some corner?  The information has to be useful and accessible or else why waste your time recording it.


Characters sometimes have to get from point A to point B during the course of a story.  Using details from your life adds a flavor to the writing that draws the reader in.

Do you remember the feeling you had driving your first car, taking the train home after your first summer away or looking out the window during takeoff to see the ground fall away?  Each of these moments is overflowing with feelings and nuances—the peeling vinyl of your beat up truck’s dashboard or the way your heart skipped during turbulence over the mountains—that are ready to be mixed into your tale.

Here’s a starter to get you going:

Planes Trains Automobiles
  • Worst flight
    • Coach, middle seat by the toilets on a turbulent flight
  • Best flight
    • Unexpected First Class bump
    • Extremely hot seat-mate
  • Most colorful airport experience
  • What feelings gnawed your stomach before an important trip?
    • What did you feel coming home?
  • Best trip
    • Long winding journey through beautiful countryside
  • Worst trip
    • Crammed in a subway with drunken hooligans after a long day at work
  • Have you ever missed a train?
    • What were the ramifications?
  • Did you ever meet someone while waiting for the train?
  • Road trips
    • Cross state
    • Cross country
    • Going to college
    • Going to see your love
  • Worst traffic
    • Gridlock on LA freeways?
  • Accidents?
    • What you felt immediately during
    • What you felt after
      • Lingering repercussions?

Brainstorming Yourself

We sometimes forget how complex we are.  There’s incredible depths of emotion and experience hidden in our own lives that often get overlooked.  Sitting down to record these moments and take an in-depth look at them will provide you with more writing material than you ever thought possible.


Table of Contents: Primordial Soup

  1. Make a Batch of Primordial Soup ◄ You Are Here
4 comments… add one
  • Kirsten Lesko Mar 15, 2010

    Helpful techniques – I’ve never heard of Mindjet Manager before. To call up memories I have to zone out for a little while (similar to a meditation, I guess). I try to feel what felt in the original moments & once I do that the ball usually starts rolling.

  • Regan Leigh Mar 15, 2010

    Great series. 🙂 I haven’t heard of those programs. Very cool. 🙂 I’ve also never put much thought into organizing my experiences, but you’re very right about using them for our stories and characters.

    It makes me totally want to sit and write down things to ref later in a book. I guess you would just do it based on your day. Like eating ice cream at home on a Monday reminds you to doc your earlier memories of ice cream or eating as a kid, etc…

    I especially like the very simple ones to remember. Like how it feels to be sick. I get sick. I hate it. I feel awful. But when I feel better? I forget the details of my misery. 🙂 I hear giving birth is similar to that. I wouldn’t know. 🙂

  • Gabriel Novo
    Mar 16, 2010

    @Kirsten – Mind mapping is a very cool technique that puts your thoughts into a more visual medium. Just like moving your writing space from the office to somewhere else can break through writer’s block, changing the way you organize data can help you achieve breakthroughs with your work. It’s definitely helped me out with my characters.

    @Regan – I’m there with you on the birth deal. I’ve heard a lot about it, but no firsthand knowledge 😉 I’ll be getting into emotional associations with memories in my later posts. Sometimes the memories themselves aren’t what will help your writing, but the emotional textures they contain. Textures can easily be transposed to other situations adding more layers to your scenes.

  • Terrie Matsuura Mar 18, 2010

    I’m one of those notebooks-stacked-in-a-corner type of people. Gabriel is single-handedly bringing into the 21st century. Organizing is one of my biggest problems. And I do lose so much.

    As for memories, I jot down almost everything that strikes me — again in notebooks so finding that stuff is a trick. Sometimes I spend days just dwelling on some old memory, mining it for all it’s worth. I’m always surprised when I ask someone else who was there what they remember, invariably a different story.

    Oh, and that whole birthing is true.

    Off to follow the links.

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