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So we’re going to talk about an old question.
Where do ideas come from?
As an aspiring but yet unpublished writer, I of course feel fully qualified to talk about this (can you hear the sarcasm?).
This is actually the stage of writing I like best because it’s at this stage that anything is possible. Do you remember those illusions you had about writing before you actually started to write? That one image of living in the clouds all day long, your mind bursting with creativity. I think it’s this stage that closest resembles that.
Every idea is like a pearl, shiny and attractive. And they are a dime a dozen.
So let’s get down to it?
Where do ideas come from?
Short answer. Everywhere.
Yes I know you were expecting a thesis on the complex nature of the human mind in relation to interpretation of the environment, or something equally complicated but it’s really that simple.
Ideas come from everywhere. Everywhere.
Sometimes all it takes is a word, or a picture or a scene from life to make our minds explode with plot lines, ideas for characters and dialogue.
Pinterest: An incredibly useful resource for writers. Whether it’s an idea for a whole novel or for scenes, it is a definite go-to for me. Pictures are of course worth hundreds of words.
The trick is to go in with the intent to find a story idea. If not, it becomes just another social media site. That is not to say you can’t find the right idea by accident. Of course you can but believe me, Pinterest is one of the best agents of procrastination so it’s better to be careful.
Browsing the internet: Once again with intent. Surfing through sites like Goodreads, looking through writing prompts online, looking through websites of other authors, checking out latest trends in whatever genre you are interested in etc.
Books/ Movies: There’s nothing new under the sky and ideas cannot be copyrighted. Generally most ideas have been used several times before.
As long as the idea is used in a unique way to create our own books and we don’t copy characters or whole scenes or chapters then its fine. It’s important to learn to steal like an artist.
Also we want to avoid tropes. For something to be a trope, it has probably been used to the point of death.
Leave it dead.
The News: The world we live in is awful. Always, somewhere, someone is experiencing some kind of tragedy. As horrible as this sounds, we can use this in our stories.
So if you have problems creating challenges for your characters, look no further than the news.
Read Magazines. Newspaper Headlines. Whatever. God knows the world is evil enough on its own. So go ahead. Write a story about a group of girls abducted from their school or about a building that collapsed to the ground.
At least in your story, they can have a chance at some justice.
Scenes from life: Scenes that we watch from afar but don’t necessarily take part in. For example a sign declaring that a forest is about to be leveled to create a mall can trigger an idea about a nature activist who would do anything to stop it.
People watching: Most writers I’ve met are observers, preferring to stay out of the spotlight and instead threading the periphery. Watching.
Whether this nods to the fact that most people I know are anti-social or not, the fact is that people watching done properly is a gold mine for ideas about characters and other things.
Because at the end, characters are story people. And the more they resemble regular people, the more relatable they are.
But for us to give them normal nuances and mannerism, we need to arm ourselves with knowledge of people. Knowledge we can only gain by people watching.
Eavesdropping is bad. It’s rude and annoying and a complete invasion of privacy.
But sometimes we can’t help it because we are inquisitive by nature. We want to know just what the people in the row in front of us are arguing so heatedly about.
So we lean forward a little bit, trying not to be obvious, guilt flaring but not enough to extinguish the burn of curiosity. Or maybe we’re just nosy.
Either way, the little bits of conversation we glean from eavesdropping drive us mad with ideas for dialogue, characterization, even plot.
The ups and downs, successes and tragedies of our own lives can serve as fodder for ideas.
It doesn’t even have to be overly exciting so don’t worry if you think your life is boring.
We don’t need to be kidnapped by the CIA before we can discover a story worth telling. Something as simple as planning a party or grocery shopping can present with interesting possibilities.
This also includes dreams and experiences from other people (although this can fall under #2)
As you can see, the lines between these are blurred because there really is no hard and fast categorization.
What is common between them all is the fact that it takes just one moment that captures your mind and gets the ball spinning.
And then in the next moment, you’re asking questions:
You see an old man attempting to cross the road but he keeps getting pushed aside by teenagers. Then you’re asking what if he could retaliate? Would he? What would he do? How could he win against those teenagers?
Next thing you’re dreaming up a story about an old man who goes to extreme lengths to reclaim his youth so he can get back at society for his ails.
Or you hear a conversation between a couple standing behind you on the line for coffee. It goes like this:
‘I’ve got my bags packed already,’ she says
‘What, already? I thought I’d have a few more days before…’
‘Greece, Eddy. I’m moving to Greece. You need to be able to say it. You need to accept it.’
‘Any chance I can convince you to change your mind.’
‘You know I have to go. I have no choice. I’m all they’ve got.’
Wow. What an ear-full. You begin to ask questions. What possible reasons could she have for going to Greece? Could she be an Archaeologist? A historian? How would she and Eddy maintain a long distance relationship?
Next thing you’re spinning a tale of a post-apocalyptic world in which strange ancient creatures are rising from the earth and only a history professor from England has the capacity to save it while battling her own turbulent personal life.
And so, the first spark of an idea is just like a seed.
To germinate it, you’ve got to water it with questions. Keep asking what if? Why? How? What Next? And this is what you do during brainstorming sessions. You spend time, fueling that spark with questions until it explodes into your next story.
I recommend spending a few days or weeks (or whatever works for you) doing this and just gathering ideas before trying to organize them. At this stage, make use of as many of the resources mentioned above.
And be flexible. Use a lot of ‘Maybes’ and ‘Possiblys’. This way you allow yourself to write down even the most ludicrous ideas. So that when it’s time to sit down and start connecting the dots then you will have a lot of ideas to work with.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you finally sit down to stretch your idea:
-Who is the protagonist?
-What does he/she want?
-How can he/she get this?
-What stands in his/her way?
Before you know it, you’ll have a fully formed idea complete with character sketches, notes on plots and setting and possibly an inkling of theme.
This is an organized version of what my idea process is like (trust me, you wouldn’t be able to read my original scribbles):
So what do you guys think? What other ways do you guys get ideas? Tell me in the comments.
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