Gaffs of Truth

from One Who Creates with Alphabets

04 January 2006

Gathering Ideas

In going through my various scraps looking for the idea I wanted to run with for the next two years (see 2YN project in previous post), I thought about how I come up with ideas.

Every writer (unpublished or top of the charts) has been asked this question. Where do you get your ideas?

If you have trouble coming up with story ideas or need a creative jumpstart, checkout this lesson on Orson Scott Card’s website.

I have several lists of places to "find" ideas. Many of the items overlap, but here are the five I find most useful.

My Top Places to Find Ideas

1) Dreams

Dreams aren't very good for providing complete stories.

I actually keep a mini-cassette recorder handy. I have trained myself to slightly wake up and rather groggily mumble into it what I can remember before falling back to sleep. The results are often amusing, but what is coherent is not always useful by itself.

Another option is to keep a dream journal but unless you can keep the 'image' of the dream long enough to write and/or draw it, making anything of it can be tough. I tried this at first. I would lose the 'gist' before I had but a few lines. Its easier (again for me-Your Mileage May Vary) for me to talk it out. It takes much less time and I tend to get more out. Sometimes I'll even remember more when playing it back.

2) The News

While real life often doesn't make good fiction (see the logic comment in the dreams section), sometimes it can be stranger.

I like newsmagazines. I especially like when they mash three completely unrelated pieces together. One uplifting, one criminal (either murder or a rip-off), and one fluffy celebrity interview. Tape one of these shows, then try and make a story incorporating elements of all three pieces.

A caution-don't make your story too topical. It dates the material and makes it almost unreadable fast. Do you want to read about kids wearing bloomers and doing the twist in a novel that won't be published until 2008?

3) Fairy tales

Fairy tales, Fables, Folk tales, Parables, Moral stories. These are great plots with long histories. They come from every country, every culture. Take the basic plot and filter them through your perspective. Find a new way to combine them or borrow elements from them and create a whole new story.

How would Jack from Mother Goose survive in the world of Mulan?

4) Art and Photo books

As the old saying goes, "A picture is worth a thousand words." For ideas, the value can be much more. A single image can spark a whole story.

Ignore the names, captions or any information provided by the creator. Imagine you are there, seeing what they might have seen. Now describe it-in your own words.

5) Wretched Writers

Bad writing can be a great teacher. Most people have seen a terrible movie or read an awful book and thought "I could write something better than that". Do it!

Great ideas are poorly executed all the time. Find what you see as the worst examples. Pick them apart. What works? What doesn't? Whatever you think the writer should have done is something you can fix. Take the basic idea and write it as something you like.

If after all that, you still don't have anything to write about, I have a box full of story ideas I will sell to you for George Clooney's number.
I need it to bribe Miss Snark.


At 8/1/06 14:00, Blogger M. G. Tarquini added...

News items are primary sources for me. not verbatim, just they get the creative juices flowing.

At 9/1/06 12:18, Blogger Dana Y. T. Lin added...

#4 is me. I LOVE looking pictures, whether they're mine or something I see in a magazine - I always ask myself, now what happened before this that caused THIS kind of picture to be taken.

At 9/1/06 20:58, Anonymous kathie added...

Great ideas...I love dreams. I so rarely remember them, but when I do, I go right to my dream book. My friend just a kick ass series of dreams we've interpreted to mean she's about to take over the world. How's that for an idea?

At 11/1/06 05:11, Blogger Alphabeter added...

Sound like great ideas!


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