I Have An Idea!

After giving it some thought, I decided my Pearls of Wisdom should start at the beginning. And in the beginning, the question so often asked is: Where do you get your ideas?

I used to tell anyone who asked me that I got my ideas from the Idea Of The Month Club. To be honest, I couldn’t understand how someone could want to write and not have a head full of ideas already.

Then I started doing a series on different forms of poetry and when it came time to write examples, I would find myself sitting there on Wednesday nights trying to come up with an idea for a poem. I’d look around me, I’d surf the net, and I’d come up empty. Suddenly I found myself sympathizing with anyone who’s ever wanted to write but didn’t know what to write about.

So where do you get an idea? While ideas in general are all around you, they can also be triggered by many different things:

Magazine Photographs: Most people have a few magazines laying around. Flip one open and look at some of the pictures. Sometimes the most unique ideas can be triggered by a picture from a magazine. I have an extensive collection of pictures I’ve cut from magazines – people, places, gardens, dishes – anything that catches my eye.

Freewrite: Write for 10 minutes without stopping, without worrying about grammar, and without reading what you wrote. Once you're finished, you can read it. This technique will help you access those creative ideas hiding in your subconscious.

Look at a Book: Take a book you have nearby and write down the first 10 words you see. Choose words that you don't normally use. Then, freewrite a paragraph or two using the 10 words. This exercise can lead you in a creative direction.

Market Research: Read through a publisher’s market listings and guidelines, even if it’s an area you don’t normally write in. Often an editor’s request can set off the idea for a new story or article. Even requests for non-fiction articles can generate ideas for fiction.

Newspaper Articles: Read through the weekly papers, even the freebies. Real life is a great starting point for fiction. I once used an article from a newspaper as the basis for a poem, which led to a short story as well. Tabloids are especially good for generating ideas.

Science and Technology Magazines: These are full of the latest discoveries and technological advances. They are particularly helpful when plotting science fiction and futuristic stories.

Psychology Books: Psychology and abnormal psychology textbooks are invaluable for providing information on character. They provide background, motivation, and deep insight into human behavior. Check out the Diagnostic Statistic Manual (DSM) for lists of various character traits, which can be used for profiles.

Contests: Most contests force you to write about a specific subject or theme by a certain deadline. This gets not only gets you started on an idea, it helps keep you motivated to finish your story. Even if you don’t win the contest, you’ll still have a finished story you can try selling elsewhere.

Senior Citizens: Everyone has a story to tell, and most seniors are only too happy to share. Talk to your grandmother, great-grandfather, parents, an uncle, a friend. The possibilities of creating powerful stories from their memories are endless. Their tales could set off an historical novel, a nonfiction book, even a murder mystery.

People Watch: Go to a busy mall or other public place and watch the people as they pass by. Pick out a person, imagine yourself in his shoes and start from there.

The best way to find ideas is to play What If. Things are happening all around you. Even a mundane task in your daily life can turn into a story with what if. Perhaps you have to run to the store to pick up some bread – what if you arrive just in time to witness a robbery? What if that bone the dog dug up is from a corpse buried in the woods? What if that weird looking bug is the beginning of a plague of insects?

Above all, when looking for ideas never limit yourself. Then, when someone asks you where you get your story ideas, you'll be able to say "everywhere."

Here's a few more ideas to get you started:
100 Writing Ideas
Creative Writing Prompts
Random Word Generator
Writer’s Digest Prompt a Day
Imagination Prompt Generator

1 comment:

Tom Stephenson said...

Prince Charles asked a famous author where she got her ideas from (forget who) at a reception once, and she answered, "At Harrods".