Wednesday, September 25, 2013

13 Places to Get Ideas

Some days, you just don't feel very creative. And writers are notoriously bad at answering the question, "Where do you get your ideas?" so that's not very helpful. If you're in need of a new idea or want some fun story starters, here are a few places to look.

Advice Columns: Read a letter and the response, then think of what would happen if the person involved did the opposite of what they were told. Or read the response and try to figure out what the problem was. Imagine more details about the people involved. Put the letter in a different country or time period and think about how the advice would change.

Book Covers: Look at the cover of a book and cover up the title before reading it. Then invent a short description of what the plot might be based on the cover. Uncover the title and see if that adds another dimension to your plot or changes your original impression. Then compare the description on the back to the one you came up with.

Comic Strips: Find one of your favorites and ask the question, “What would need to happen to turn this strip into a tragedy instead of a comedy?” White out the speech in the bubbles and give it a try.

Discarded Paper: See the above book by Bill Keaggy. It contains his commentary on hundreds of abandoned grocery lists he collected from shopping carts. (My favorite contained the poignant line, “If you buy more rice, I’ll punch you.”) Give it a try—pick up a stray piece of paper you see at the store or on the street or tucked in a library book. See what you can learn about the person who threw it away. Make the rest up.

Expressions: Look across a room at people’s facial expressions, body language, and gestures. How do those things communicate their emotions? What would you guess they were talking about?

Flea Markets: Pick up some interesting objects, and ask yourself, “Who owned this first? What did it mean to them?” Old pictures or postcards are also great for intriguing glimpses into other people’s lives.

Google: Type in a partial phrase and see what Autocorrect wants to finish it with. For example, “How long before I” will get you “How long before I get results from working out?” and “How long before I love you?” Think about what a romance story would be like if the two protagonists were asking these two separate questions. There’s some conflict.

Hitler and Other Evil People: Read their speeches, diaries, and books. Research the “normal” parts of their lives—hobbies, what they wanted to be when they grew up, home life as a child, quirks and pet peeves. Answer the question: “What about this person is chilling?” Use all of this information to inspire realistic villains of your own.
Normal, nice German people did not think this guy was evil at the time. Why?
Inanimate Objects: Think about what would happen if a non-living thing could provide feelings and commentary on what was going on around it. What personality and narration style would a radio have? How would it be different from a lemon juicer? A fountain pen? A litter box? You may never have a scene in your novel narrated by an object, but it might spark an idea, and it gives you practice playing with different tones and styles.

Jokes: Listen to them. Why are the good ones funny? Why are the bad ones not? This will help you if you want to include any humorous scenes in your story (and if you’re not writing a dark and hopeless tragedy, you probably will).

Kids: They say hilarious things…and can also be extremely profound. Eavesdrop on them. Ask them questions. If you plan to have a child character in your story, listen to their vocabulary and sentence structure as well so your dialogue will sound right.

Lines Out of Context: Write out a few favorite quotes from a movie or book. Take out any proper nouns, like names or places. Then list several situations where the line could have been spoken, and described the characters involved.

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