July 29, 2021

Where Do I Get My Ideas, Please?

Recently I've been putting focused time into brainstorming in hopes that I'll think up some viable story ideas. Writers are often asked, "Where do you get your ideas?" to which my instinctual answer might usually be a panicked "I don't know, I don't have any!" Many other writers seem a lot more full of ideas than I've ever been.

A more accurate assessment, though, is that without further qualification, ideas are easy, and I have a million of them. I have opening scenes and configurations of characters and a more interesting spin on that thing that happened in real life. Maybe I'm as full of ideas as those other writers I'm envying, but the thing I'm too often lacking is an idea that transforms some of this random stuff into a story. I don't have enough ideas about middle scenes or plots to send the characters on, so I'm left with no coherent shape to assemble the existing ideas into.

I have of course had viable story ideas before, and that suggests I surely will again. Most often, the good ideas come to me in a way that feels out of the blue, but very often following a period of despair and maybe a public proclamation that I'll never have another good idea again. So I figured I'd better make this post to move the process along.

I went looking through old blog posts to see what I'd written before about the search for ideas. I was thinking of this post on how to write a short story, though it turned out to focus less on the pre-idea stage than I remembered. I also found a sort of sequel post that's really more about procrastination than anything else.

I ended up reading through a lot of other old blog posts (speaking of procrastination) and was kind of amazed to discover how much I used to post and how much more full of ideas I seemed back then. I once came up with a whole story outline to use in a discussion of plot for a column I used to write, and then there's this other detailed invention for the sake of example. Possibly the answer is to get my ideas from Past Me, so I guess I'll be writing a story about the stress of unemployment and dolphin training.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ At CrimeReads, Taylor Adams explains What Makes a Killer Plot Twist: "While out-of-nowhere problems are a great way to intensify the story's moment-to-moment suspense (I often delight in imagining things that can go wrong for the main character), it doesn't land with the same visceral impact as a plot twist because the groundwork isn't there. A complication can be simple bad luck, but a twist is inevitable. The clearer the reader can recall these 'signposts'—and the longer they've been embedded in the story—the bigger the exhilaration when you circle back on them to deliver an unexpected (but fully unavoidable) revelation."


Christopher Gronlund said...

I started capturing even many of the ideas I would have once let slide by. I can get to my big list in Evernote quickly, and some of the ideas are barely anything, but in knowing I can get them down with others quickly has been kind of self replicating where they just happen.

I know part of that is from doing a fiction podcast and knowing I have to keep writing (or at least wanting to keep at it...it's not like I MUST produce constantly for the show). So between being open to ideas and then hitting new thoughts with, "What if?" from many angles, I have more ideas than I've ever had.

Granted, I still have to make them more than what they are, but in visiting the big list, it seems every time I do, I add a bit more to the ideas that interest me most. In that way, it's like a nursery of incubating ideas, where sometimes some hatch and end up on the show.

Lisa Eckstein said...

This post didn't end up saying anything much about what I'm doing to brainstorm, but some of it's related to what you describe. I've written down a lot of random ideas over the years, and there are a bunch of half-formed story concepts I find myself mentally returning to a lot, so I've been trying to pull some of that together. Thinking about what might be combined, examining ideas from different angles, stuff like that.

It's good to know that being more diligent about writing down ideas has been helpful for you. That's making me think about better ways to organize my own note-taking.

Post a Comment