Monday, August 10, 2015

Five Ways to Generate Story Ideas

One question I often get at writers' conferences or meeting people in bookstores  is "Where do you get your ideas?" Here are five suggestions for your consideration:

1. Eavesdrop. People say and do the most interesting things; all you have to do is pay attention to them. My two favorite places to eavesdrop are standing in long lines and eating in restaurants. In both situations I can easily overhear people conversing and observe their behavior. Sometimes I’ll overhear a snippet of conversation and wonder how the conversants got to that line—and therein lies a story. Sometimes, I can’t hear a thing, but I can observe body language and start to wonder about their story—which I then start to invent.

2. Hear something on the radio or read something in the paper that strikes an interesting chord. For example, small-town police blotters are a wonderful source of oddball incidents. Again, I am not interested in lifting the real-life event and transporting it to the page. The incidents suggest precursors or aftermaths that contain the interesting story. I keep a folder of these tidbits and peruse them from time to time.

3. Project a concern or fear I have onto a character or situation. For instance, how would I react if confronted by someone breaking into my house? Would it change if they were armed with an AK-47 and spoke Chinese? What if I were only six? What if I had been six and had repressed it and now fifty years later remembered something—or maybe I thought I did, but in fact I had made it up. Keep spinning the idea until one variation calls out, “Write ME!”

4. If you like Thrillers or Science Fiction, try taking a current trend and pushing it forward to a logical, but startling, conclusion. For example, accelerate the melting of the polar icecaps to the point the Arctic Ocean is open for supertankers for much of the year. Does the Northwest Passage replace the Panama Canal? Does China plan to invade Canada to secure safe shipping for their goods to Europe? Toss your character into that ocean of possibilities and see where it takes you.

5. Take two characters, lock them in a room and consider what would happen. For example, put Rush Limbaugh and Barack Obama in a jail cell together in Caribou, ME. Because of budget cuts, the jailer is part-time. The jailer just went home for the evening. No one knows they are there. Oh yes, they both have diarrhea and there is only one toilet and only a few sheets of toilet paper.

You can consider these kinds of situations with real people, fictional characters, even your close family. Then take what you’ve projected and apply it to fictional characters.

There you have it: five approaches to generate story ideas.

~ Jim

A version of this post originally appeared at Writers Who Kill

2 comments:

  1. #5 Limbaugh barters his toilet paper rations for the President's shirt.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Jim,
    Your #5 comment gave me my laugh of the day.

    ReplyDelete