A common question of writers is “Where do you come up with your ideas?” There’s no simple answer – ideas for stories come to writers in a number of ways. There’s no easy step-by-step process for developing good ideas.
Fortunately, there are some ways you can pump the imagination to get ideas flowing. Many good writers use a variety of “tricks” that ensure their imagination never goes dry:
• Observe the world – Many ideas come from noticing peculiar aspects of people’s behavior or oddities in how the world works.
• Get curious about other people and things – Science fiction writers, for example, are particularly curious about people and things as related to science, and specifically about the effects of change, usually caused by advances in science.
• Explore your world – You can discover the world either by actual adventure or vicariously by reading (and then through a diversity in reading materials, meaning don’t limit yourself to only those genres you enjoy – for example, don’t read only crime nonfiction if writing mysteries).
• Create maps of imaginary places – Draw coastlines, mountains, cities, nations or star lanes, then develop a story around them.
• Distill conflicts into lists – What are incompatible desires and aims that someone could experience? Then match it to an appropriate “What if?” (a situation that aggravates or accentuates conflict).
• Fictionalize yourself in an unresolved situation that someone else faces – How would you resolve the problem?
• Find conflicts in everyday life – Look at the problems those around you are going through and have your characters resolve them in their universe.
• Place a person you know in a different setting – For example, place an urbanite on a Southern farm or a school janitor in a corner office of a high-tech firm. How does their lifestyle and view on life change? You now have a character and a setting. Next, imagine that a problem occurs, upsetting their routine. You now have a plot.
• Select a random line - Open a novel to a random page. Read the first complete sentence at the top of the sentence. Make that the first line of your story. Who is the protagonist and antagonist, and what conflict do they have, as suggested by this line?
Remember, there’s nothing wrong with letting ideas ripen for months or years if necessary. But never forget that ultimately to be a writer, you must write. Even writing a story around what you consider a “bad idea” is better than never writing at all.
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