Monday, April 16, 2012

Generating Story Ideas #4

by James Duckett

Generating Story Ideas #1
Generating Story Ideas #2
Generating Story Ideas #3 (Link to come later)

There are many ways to find inspiration for a story or add to the one you are working on. This week I invite you to free-write to find new story ideas.

What is free-writing?

Free-writing is the technique of writing for a set amount of time (5 minutes, 15 minutes, longer?) on anything that comes to mind. It isn't to produce anything usable in writing, but it is a pre-writing tool that helps wake up the writing senses, release writer's block, and find new story ideas. Free-writers are also encouraged to turn off the self-editor. Nobody is going to see this except for the person doing it, so it doesn't need to be publishable material. JUST WRITE!

Why do I love free-writing?

My day job is working on computers and programming. Often, when I get into a bind, I drag somebody into my office and I just start blabbering on about it. Usually that person knows to just sit there, nod, add an occasional "mmmhmmmm" in there like he or she is listening, and I just go through what I've done so far and talk about what I am hung up on.

Almost every time -- in fact I can't think of a time that this has failed -- I find inspiration in my ramblings. I'll suddenly go quiet for a second as something comes to mind and then I get excited and proclaim something akin to, "What if I just combine these two buttons. It would give me the space I need and reduce a step." I then excuse that person and thank them for their help. Most of them usually say, "I didn't do anything." I disagree.

That leads to free-writing. Free-writing is one way of doing this with my writing instead of computer programming. The idea is to just sit down and write whatever comes to mind. Heck, one time I sat down and began with something like, "Nothing is coming to mind, so I'm just going to write about the fact that nothing is coming to mind." See, the self-editor was completely thrown away right there! I then went on to write about why my mind is so preoccupied and about three minutes later I got hit with an epiphany. Suddenly the idea I was looking for came to me and I was able to return to my writing and continue where I left off.

So, if you are looking for an idea, try free-writing. Not only does it get you into a writing mood, it can generate new and exciting ideas for you to incorporate into your writing.

Other forms of free-writing

There are other ways to do this as well. If writing mindlessly for five to thirty minutes doesn't do something for you, you could also try...

Make a mind map

Mind maps are often used by problem solvers to look for solutions. They are also used by creative people to find new ideas. Writing is VERY creative, so it should be a natural fit.

A mind map is a diagramming of notes. You take a central idea (a character, a plot line, a setting, etc.) and you start adding notes.

Maybe you have a character named Bob. So you write bob in the middle of a piece of paper and you circle the name. Then you start making notes on Bob.

You might want to write goals for Bob. So write the word "goals" nearby and circle that, and connect the two words with a line. Then start adding goals near that word and connect them to that word. Maybe he wants to join the circus. He also wants to become romantically involved with the girl at the donut shop. He also wants to please his disapproving father who thinks he can't do anything right.

How about friends and acquaintances. You can then add the word "friends" on the other side of Bob and you can write down his co-worker. And his other friend that works at another donut shop in competition with his to-be girlfriend. Maybe even the shoe-shine guy he goes to every week and gets sage advise on what he should do with his life.

Looks for connections from there. How is this for fun? The shoe-shine guy convinces Bob to stop being a loser and to ask out the donut girl. He gets his minute of confidence and does it. He goes to pick her up and meet her family and it turns out her dad is the shoe-shine guy. The shoe-shine guy knows what a loser Bob is despite the confident front he had put on when asking out the donut girl.

Hilarity ensues?

Solo Brain Storming

If mind maps aren't for you, try just brain storming. Give yourself a solo brain storming session. Go somewhere alone where you can just think up ideas. My tool of choice is a nice, large white board where I can jot down ideas and easily remove something that isn't working if I need to.

Some people would probably be okay with a pen and paper. Heck, some might even do just fine sitting and meditating. Do what works best for you, but do it with the purpose and mind-set of brain storming for ideas.

Write fan-fiction

This isn't going to be something that is publishable so you can do this to have some fun and maybe generate some ideas. So go with the "write what you know" process and write some fan-fiction.

In a lot of books I write I often get engrossed by sub-characters. I will often ask, "Whatever became of xxxx?" or "How did xxxxxx get to be how he or she is?" The author usually can't write it because he is focused on their main character. However, you can!

Use their universe. Use their characters. Use their setting. See, most of the work is already done for you. Now just write. And when you are done, if you have something that is worth sharing, maybe it is time that you make a real story out of it. Maybe you can add it to your current story.

Or maybe you can change it as an original story of your own. Change the setting, tweak the magic system, improve the characters, and keep the core of your new story. If you change things enough, you could end up having something completely original on your hands that nobody would have a clue was borrowed and inspired by something you've read.

Or just disregard it and consider it a fun escape into your writing to help remove the writing cob-webs.


Donna K. Weaver said...

I can solo brainstorm fairly well by asking myself lots of questions, but I love being able to brainstorm with others because they can go places that never occurred to me.

James Duckett said...

Donna: That is next week. ;)