A Story Begins with an Idea

Who is this man? Why is he dressed all in white? Where is he going? What is he waiting for? Is he alone? Is he from this time period? What is the time period?

The man was all in white dressed like an old fashioned milk man. He leaned against the bus stop waiting. He did his best to ignore the smell of pizza mixed with fast food and garbage. He was hungry and simultaneously nauseous, but he kept his discomfort well hidden.

A

story always starts with an idea, but where do we get ideas when our imagination feels drained and exhausted? How do we generate good and great ideas? Many times we find inspiration from our dreams, and of course our lives, but sometimes nothing comes. It can be a frustrating moment sitting in front of your notebook or your computer as you look at the blank page or screen and nothing, nothing comes to mind.

Sometimes (most of the time) I need some help and the following 11 points help me to come up with new things to write about. I use them for exercise purposes like running to prepare for the marathon. I don’t keep every story or go with every story, I’m usually just running laps on the page.

I often set a timer for 10 minutes and pick something to write on for that amount of time. I try to extend the time each day to build up my writing endurance.

11 Sources for a Great Idea

  1. Your life- Well of course! Write what you know. It’s the classic go to. You are a world of stories.
  2. News stories events- In the movie Bad Education by Almodovar, the character who was a writer would search through news articles to find ideas for stories. The film goes into some personal journey for the character, but this idea is great. This is like a meta story teaching writers where to find ideas for writing. If you can make it relate to you great, if not, let your imagination tell the story.
  3. Historical events- I once had the idea to write a short story about a young man who was a tunnel rat in Vietnam. I had gotten the idea from reading real life accounts of American soldiers who fought in the Chu chi tunnels during the war.
  4. Fantasy- We’ve all been kids- remember sitting with your legs straddling a low hanging branch pretending it was your pirate ship, and the twig in your hand was your sword? You raised your sword as winged monsters flew towards your great vessel. Look to your dreams. Write them down and revisit them. There is something in your dreams.
  5. Memories-I say this also falls under your life although it could be someone else’s memory. It can be a brief fleeting memory- the story doesn’t have to be truthful. How truthful are memories anyway?
  6. A single image- at Write Around Portland, a place where I used to teach creative writing, we would often take pictures from magazine and add the image to a prompt. For example, an image of a single tree in a desert and then a prompt: “by this time next year”. Now write. You don’t have to use a worded prompt or magazines. You can use your own photos. The photo above is a picture I took from the hip many years ago while I was visiting New York.
  7. A philosophical idea- this could get one going on a really wild story- I love science and philospophy- since both have a belief that our universe is finite then our stories can be too.
  8. A situation- two men walk into a coffee shop together one is holding a child. The man with the child recognizes the woman behind the counter for some reason there is an uncomfortable tension. There are many sites that can give you a random collection of scenarios, characters and situations- you just put them all together in the plot generator.
  9. Adaption of another story- I’ve always wanted to do a film adaptation of Under a Cruel Star and also I want to write a story about the love affair between Nikolai and Alexandra before he became the Czar of Russia.
  10. Adaptation of other media- The news, music, youtube, twitter, instagram, another blog; media has gotten bigger and your access to ideas had also grown.
  11. Overheard dialogue- I once overheard a two women on a greyhound bus talking about how it shouldn’t be against the law to pick up road kill, after all it’s just a waste of good meat. Now imagine the story.

If you’re feeling a little unimaginative try one of these techniques to get you going. Happy writing!

 

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