Guess what point we’re at? Writing a darn story!
At this point, we can’t begin a story without an idea. How one comes up with ideas is in itself as individual as the writer. Some people start with just a title (Dean Wesley Smith) and then start to write. Others will start with a plot point. Some want to think up something based off what is popular.
Like “I want a zombie book.” Or “I want to write a paranormal romance because they’re hot!”
Personally, I usually choose my story idea based off a gut feeling. I read through ideas I’ve had, and that I wrote down, or something that’s been percolating in my head, then go from there. I let my own self tell me what to write. How I know is a feeling like a whisper or maybe flutter inside. As if I have someone inside of me saying, “this one.” Because to me, if I’m not feeling something then I’m not going to have fun. If I’m not having fun? It’s not important.
Think about this. You are going to be hanging out with this story idea for the next few weeks or years (depends on how fast you write the book). Do you really want to spend your time with an idea if it’s not of interest? I sure wouldn’t. That would be the fastest route to the end game. And worse? Any reader of the story will know. They will feel that disconnect between you and the story. If no part of you wants to write the book, don’t. Don’t fight against it.
Write a story that you want to read right now.
The absolute best method for myself to find a story idea (the base of one) is to head to my dreams.
Every single one of my stories fits that. Don’t Go Far was written because I wanted to read a book about a witch and a werewolf. I grabbed my idea from a dream I had. Here is a sample of the dream I wrote down (don’t judge me – this is written horribly! lol):
I remember that Lucian wasn’t transformed into his Lycan self, but he was keeping watch on all the others to make sure that they all did what he wanted them to do and that they did it correctly. He was directing them around while I was walking around in the area that they were. I don’t know if I was friends with him, or simply a bystander around there, but I was nearly in the middle of what they were doing.
I was in the upper floor of a place at one point, where Lucian was and some Lycan were wandering around him, as well as below and I was either told by him, or wanted to go myself, down to the lower floor. Lucian had one of the Lycan climbing up this hole in the ground, or a place where there was destruction (either way it was a broken part of the floor I could see the Lycan holding onto the edge of the floor where Lucian was standing close to. Lucian told me to climb down the Lycan and down to the floor
As you can see from the above (so terrible! lol) I wrote the dream down as I had it. This was long before I started to write down my dreams like they were story ideas. Where I wrote “I” and “me,” instead of “she,” and “her.” This is the date on this one – Saturday, January 17, 2009 – 10:45 pm (<–28 year old me was veddy specific on time as if that was important). So in 2009 I wrote this dream down. And also let’s point out that this had nothing to do with the final product. BUT here is part of the dream that I used in my novel:
Right before I woke up I was aware that he wanted to change me and yet he didn’t. He wanted me stay human, but that is why he was trying to get me to stay away from him. Didn’t want hurt me with getting intimate.
And this part:
They were transformed into their Lycan counterpoint and they were doing something like stealing
You might have read the book and are going . . . how did that get in the book? Well, that “stealing” made me think about them searching for something important. Which then altered into “hunting for” which then became Mystery and Dominic searching for a relic. Then one of her grandmother’s hunts.
What I’m getting at is I took a basic idea from a dream and I continued to think about it, play with it, adapt it to fit into what I needed, and what it became. This didn’t come with much active thought. It came from that dream and me wanting a “werewolf and witch forbidden love” idea. I wanted to read it.
And for me, the best way to come up with those ideas? Is to go to my dreams.
I know what you’re thinking right now: “I don’t remember my dreams.” Not right now you don’t. The funny thing that happens when you start to journal them? You will. Put a notebook by your bed and tell yourself that you’re going to start remembering them. You will. It may take some time, some hit or misses. Often when I stop writing them down, I don’t remember them all. Now I’ve even trained myself to remember the really good ones. The ones I can adapt to stories. Don’t ask me how I did it. I think it was another one of those unconscious processes where I only want to remember those so my brain does it for me.
There are numerous plot generators around the web. I’m not going to bother to link to some. It’s easy. Go to your favorite search provider and simply type in “story idea generator” or “plot idea generator.”
You will find them. They are great. Some are better than others. There are even generators who’ll do the whole idea. Even if you use one, think of it as the starting point. Play with the idea, trust yourself to manipulate it. Don’t use it as is. Play. That’s what’s great about writing. Set that creative side of you loose.
Starting from fresh
You have an idea in you right now. I’m not kidding. Right this second. That thought in your head? Drop it on the paper. Expand and play with it (we’ll do that next, feel free just to drop the ideas below and just do basics right now). You’re going to see me do it below once I play off Joe’s comment.
A great comment on Answering the often asked: do you do Nanowrimo? post was from Mr. Darcy (@joeEelliott). He said,
I have had a lot of success following a Stephen King tip: I come up with a character or two, put them in some situation and just start writing. I rarely get beyond a few chapters before I have a pretty good idea of where the story will go in the middle and ending sections. [Read full comment here]
That is a really great way to come up with ideas. Just take a character or two. Literally start from fresh. And then inject them into a situation. At this point you can start to write. Or, garner some more information as we’ll do below.
Throw an obstacle in their path and then ask yourself: how do they get out of it? How do they get what they want? Ask the “W” questions. “Who, what, where, when, why,” and then throw in “how” if necessary.
Who is where?
____ is ___ in the ___ with ___?
____ is ___ at the ___ with ___?
____ is ___ near the ___ with ___?
Answer it in the comments. Change that as you see fit. Just take one or two characters and place them someplace. Doesn’t have to be human, doesn’t even have to have real names. Make them up, or say “female character” or “male character.” Maybe even “male giraffe” or “female alien.”
Here’s what I first thought about: Madison is stuck in the closet with Brandon. (First thing came to my mind.)
After that we start to ask questions.
Is Madison human? Is Brandon? Maybe I don’t want to focus on them as much as the situation. So we go to the Five W’s.
Why are in the closet?
What are they doing there?
Are they hiding from something?
Where is the closet?
Or ask a How. How long have they been in the closet?
You can also get story ideas from titles. Like Dean Wesley Smith does, he will figure out a title from half titles thrown together. He has a sheet of paper with half of a beginning title and half a end title, then he grabs them and mashes them together. Typically he did it with his short stories. As I mentioned in a previous post. His Stories from July blog series goes more into this. Or buy the book from Amazon.
There is no greater method of coming up with ideas than life itself. Stephen King has mentioned he does it. He took the woman’s time of the month, and it became Carrie. Seriously.
This memory came back to me one day while I was working in the laundry, and I started seeing the opening scene of a story: girls showering in a locker room where there were no U-rings, pink plastic curtains or privacy. And this one girl starts to have her period. Only she doesn’t know what it is, and the other girls – grossed out, horrified, amused – start pelting her with sanitary napkins … The girl begins to scream. All that blood!
Next thing you know, he had a novel idea. Doing the same as I did with my dream. Technically the ideas derive from some odd thing and then we allow our creative brain, muse, whateveryouwannacallit loose. Let it go. Play like a five year old in a sandbox.
Look around you. There is a story idea in everything. Train your brain to see like a writer. And the best part? The more you look at something and play with it, the easier it becomes. My own brother does it and I tell him the same “see! you could totally be a writer, I should make you a test book and have you answer questions so you can write a story.” <– near actual words used. More like I told him I was going to make him write a book. Same thing. Totally. Yup.
Example: Right now on my desk, I have two dog bones. Weirdest story idea starting point ever, I know. Bear with meh. So I have these two bones. One is a rawhide half dead, the other is a knuckle bone or something heck if I know. Don’t even ask.
We’ll start right there. What if. That is the BIGGEST story idea buster maker thingie I have ever used.
I ask WHAT IF.
I didn’t have anything before this started. I’m truly starting from nothing. So two bones.
Okay. Weird. We’re going for it. You may want to buckle your seat belt because when I do this is comes in a GREATBIGRUSHINGZOOM
Remember: Five W’s. And How.
Where did the bones come from?
What are the bones from? Are they from a cow, manufactured, or (dun, dun, dun music) are they really bones from a human?
Why is the company selling human bones? What if they are alien bones and my dog nibbles one and then it begins to change her? What if the government has this plan to alter all animals and they are starting with dogs as test subjects? Who benefits? Are they trying to use the dogs to kill the owners as a method of taking people out? Are the bones really a scientific experiment for aliens who are really here on the planet right now and want to use the dogs against us? Why? What purpose does that serve?
All of that?
Tons of story ideas inside of there. Just have to play with it. Also yes, you tend to find out what lies in a writer’s mind when they play like that. I tend to go horror stories, and have a distaste in my mouth for the government so my brain can think up millions of “conspiracy” theories. This is why I’m a writer. I use it for good, haha. I channel my inner snaughtiness.
As you can tell, there are a gazillion ways to find ideas. (Tell me yours in the comments!) There are no original ideas. The original part is your spin on it. How you tell it. You’re the original. Don’t try to blatantly copy ideas though. That’s a no-no. Come up with your own, but also realize that someone out there? Has one like you.
I literally just saw a new movie coming out called Split. I used that term in Cessation thinking I was brilliant and would coin a new term for what I have a feeling the movie implements. It’ll be similar to what I came up with somehow. [grumbles under breath] Thanks Hollywood. haha Or M. Night Shyamalan maybe. lol Freaking LOVE all his movies so far so sidenote – that is gonna be a good movie too I bet!
So understand what you’re getting into. You may find yourself with others who have a similar idea. What’s unique is your own spin. I don’t read a lot of self-published books but I can guarantee people out there have similar ideas as mine.
So no matter what? The original part of your idea will be in the telling of it.
NEXT WEEK’S TOPIC:
WE’LL PLAY WITH THOSE STORY IDEAS
NOW THAT YOU HAVE ONE, LET’S EXPAND IT!
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In the comments below tell me – how do you come up with ideas? Or give me the starting idea you have in mind? What’s percolating in that brain. Let’s hear it. What are we going to be working with?
YOUR PARTICIPATION MAKES THIS SERIES WORK!
Find the index with all the posts here – Story Creation Magic. The link is also up there in my navigation bar so it’s always easy to find.🙂
4 responses to “Coming up with story ideas”
I get my story lines from everyday situations in the news, and from my own personal life, interacting with others.
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Thanks Dan! Great methods.
Okay. I have used dreams for story ideas. Even other people’s dreams. Usually, though, if an idea strikes me as interesting, I will try to expand on it and that’s how I come up with my stories. Sometimes I get ideas from TV shows and movies. If the storyline doesn’t go the way I want it to, I think, “Well, what if it DID go that way?” So, I guess there are many different ways I come up with story ideas. Sometimes the question of the day gives me ideas!
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That’s another great one: Inspiration from existing stories that you decide to alter for your own. I think a lot of people have done that too in some ways. Thanks Gerry!