I’ve written before about my somewhat chaotic writing process. I like to consider myself to be logical, and fairly rational, but it is rare that I proceed from idea to story in a logical way.
Often my stories seem to possess a life of their own, and while I might start with an idea and intend to take it this way, it instead heads off in that direction. That’s not a bad thing – after all a story is being told, even if it wasn’t the one that I thought that I was going to write.
But that is when I get started. Where do the ideas come from in the first place? Well, the answer is that I have them all the time. If I am thinking about starting a new story, and I haven’t yet decided on the topic, then search for ideas is at the back of my mind, and ideas fizz up all the time.
I could write about the adventures of an insect on a plant, just because I glimpsed an insect damaged plant. Or I might see children waiting to cross the road. What if the crossing guard was a robot, programmed to protect the kids, to the point it would lay down its ‘life’ for the kids. Or the thoughts of a tree.
Getting ideas is not hard. There are literally countless ideas out there, and the difficulty is deciding which ideas can be extended into a story. Well, they all can of course, but some are easier than others. I could probably write a story about intelligent dice, maybe ones whose ambition is to escape randomness and become predictable, but it would probably be a bit hard.
So, if ideas are swarming around you, how can you decide which ideas are worth pursuing, and which are not. There have been occasions when I have started to write and the words have petered out. I’m convinced that there is a story in the idea, but it won’t come out on the screen.
One technique for overcoming this is to put the idea and the not-yet-a-story to one side for a while. I’ve certainly done this, but I’ve not really done it consciously. Something else grabbed my attention, and when I came back to the idea I was able to progress the story.
I would not categorise the failure to progress a story as a ‘writer’s block’, by the way. If you have an idea, but can’t progress it at that time, you still have the idea, and know that you can come back to it and progress it later. A writer’s block would mean that you can’t progress anything at all, I would say. But I’ve never written something to a deadline!
If there really are ideas galore, why do we sometimes find ourselves unable to pick one? One reason is that most writers want to write something fresh and new. Even if they are writing a sequel or one a series, it has to be different in some way, to maintain the interest of the writer and his/her potential readers, so recycling old ideas is not a good idea.
For instance, if in the first book, the heroine slays the dragon and saves the Prince, and she is still doing it in book three or four, it would make the series pretty boring (and what would she do with all those Princes?)
Some people like to organise their ideas. As an idea comes to them, they write it down in a notebook or keep a file of random ideas. I’ve done that at times, but it only works moderately well for me.
Others might find help in a websites that provides ideas for stories. There are many of them, and while I’ve looked at them now and then, I’ve not been inspired by them. The ideas seem to me to be too middle of the road and not particularly interesting, but it is more than possible that the ideas these websites provide could resonate with something in one’s brain and result in a usable idea. So I don’t totally write them off.
Another technique for coming up with ideas is to take a standard story and twist it. For instance, there’s the standard ‘Prince saves Princess from Dragon’ story. What if the Dragon saves the Princess from a boring marriage with an arrogant self-obsessed Prince? Or the Prince and Princess get married and later find out that they are incompatible and it’s not ‘happy ever after’?
I use the twisted standard story idea quite a lot in my writing. My story ‘The Boy the Girl and the Dragon‘ is loosely related to the ‘Prince saves Princess from Dragon’ theme, and my story ‘Golden Hair and the Bears‘ is distantly related to the story of Goldilocks.
[I just realised that the film ‘Shrek‘ is a twisted variation of the Prince/Princess/Dragon theme, if you replace ‘Dragon’ with ‘Ogre’. The Ogre saves the Princess from a marriage with the arrogant self-obsessed Lord Farquar.]
One obvious source of ideas is one’s own stories. One could write a sequel or a spin-off. I’m not a fan of sequels, but I’ve written them. I prefer spin-offs, which allow me to use the existing story ‘universe’ but with new characters and new situations.
So, at the moment I’m between stories. I’m hunting around for the right idea. It’s proving a little elusive, but I’m sure, 100% sure, that it is out there somewhere in the cloud of ideas, just waiting for me to find it!