“A JOURNEY OF A THOUSAND MILES REQUIRES PLENTY OF SNACKS.”--JAMES SCOTT BELL
GOING AFTER IDEAS
Schedule a regular idea time, once a week at least; a few hours a month
Get a quiet spot and achieve a relaxed state where you can let your imagination run free
Give yourself 30 min on uninterrupted time
Do a writing exercise or two, You can use the list below. Use Random Numbers Generator to pick an exercise at random.
Let your imagination come up with anything it wants and record EVERYTHING on paper or a computer
DO NOT CENSOR YOURSELF. Just let the ideas pour into the computer in whatever shape or form they want to. DO NOT JUDGE.
Have Fun. Lots of FUN.
Save ALL your ideas.
After 2-3 sessions assess your ideas
NURTURING THE IDEA
Scan through the recent ideas for the month and pick one or three and write a hook, line, and sinker
*Hook—The big idea in the opener that will grab a reader browsing on the Internet or in a book store.
*Line—A tagline that grabs like “In space, no one can hear you scream.”
*Sinker—What might sink your idea? Disadvantages of doing pursuing idea.
Answer the following questions
-Has the type of story been done before?
-What can you add that will be unique?
Keep brainstorming until you have something no one else has.
-Is the setting ordinary?
-Are the characters cliché?
-What sort of character would have a fresh perspective on this story?
-Is the story “big enough” to grab a substantial number of readers?
-What would make it bigger?
-How can you raise the stakes?
-One of Bell's three “deaths”?-Is there some other element you can add that is fascinating?
Name of Ex
Choose a topic, idea, question you would like to consider. It can be a specific detail or a broad concept-whatever you are interested in exploring at the moment. Start with your goal in mind, stated as a question: “What can I write a story about?”
Write for 10 minutes non-stop on that topic. Use a timer. Most cell phones have a timer function on them but a kitchen timer will do.
If you get stuck and don’t know what to say next, write “I’m stuck and don’t know what to say next…” or try asking yourself “what else?” until another idea comes to you. Do not concern yourself with spelling, grammar, or punctuation, just speed. Your goal is to generate as much as you can about the topic in a short period of time. Get used to the feeling of articulating ideas on the page. You can repeat this exercise several times, using the same or a variety of topics connecting to your subject.
Experiment with writing on a computer and long hand on paper.
Read what you have written to see if you have discovered anything about your subject or found a line of questioning you’d like to pursue.
First thing in the morning, ask yourself what you most want to write about. Write down whatever comes to mind. Float on the stream of your own consciousness. If your hand is tired, write it down. If you think this is stupid and you can’t believe you’re doing it, write it down. Whatever. No censorship. Just write for 10 to 20 min. It’s ok if it’s messy or makes sense only to you.
Experiment with writing on computer or long hand.
Reread what you wrote to see if there is anything you would like to pursue.
Great warm up to your daily writing.
Noodle the News
For one week record short snippets of news on a 24 hours news channel or the headline and the first few lines of stories on print news. Do not go into depth. Just get a slightly expanded headline.
--Ask “What if . . .?” to each article.
--Ask TV shows and commercials “What if. . . ?”
--Let your mind roam free
--Write down the What Ifs on a master list (See Evernote: https://evernote.com)
--Put the list aside and come back to it in a few days and develop some of the What Ifs that sound promising a little further.
Make up cool titles then write the book to go with the title.
--Go through a book of quotes and jot down interesting ones to use as titles.
--List several words at random drawn from the dictionary and combine them to make a title
--Take the first line from novels and make up a title (Fist line of Dean Kootz novel is “Janice Capshaw liked to run at night.” Possible recombinations: She Runs by Night; The Night Runner; Runner of Darkness; Night Run)
--Choose a topic, idea, question you would like to consider. It can be a specific detail or a broad concept-whatever you are interested in exploring at the moment.
--On a piece of paper list all the ideas you can think of connected to your subject. Consider any idea or observation as valid and worthy of listing. Make the list as quickly as you can. One or two word reminders of past scenes of your own life, random thoughts,
--Set your list aside for a few minutes or a day.
--Come back and read your list and do the exercise again.
“I think arresting fiction is written out of a sense of outrage.”--Robert Ludlum
“Since we cannot expect truth from our institutions, we must expect it from our writers.”--Edward Abbey
What makes you outraged?
Find an issue you care about—that makes you mad.
Choose a side. Defend your moral argument.
Now come up with the good arguments for the other side.
Come up with characters who might care about each side of this issue.
First thing in the morning ask yourself, “What do I really want to write about in this moment?”
List the first 3 things that come to mind
Close your eyes and let your mind show you a movie. Sit back and watch. Don't try to control it.
Start writing. Don't think about plot. Keep writing for 20 min.
Repeat every day for 5 days.
Take a day off then then highlight the parts that turn you on
Put on a piece of music that moves you. Nothing with lyrics—movie soundtracks work well.
Close your eyes, take some deep breaths, and let the music show you a movie.
Stop and record what you've seen on paper or on computer.
Can also use this technique to write planned scenes
Develop a Dynamic Character and see where s/he leads you.
--Visualize the first person who pops into your head and describe them.
--Recreate a person you know and give them a different occupation or change their sex.
--Create a character based on the obituary.
Put that person in a setting and see what they do.
--“Why is the character acting this way?”
--“What is the worst thing that could happen to the character I just created?
Steal from the Best
“Originality is the key to plagiarism.”--William Noble in Steal This Plot.
Take a story you like and switch it up in some way: Change the character or the genre.
Add your own original take on the story.
Flip the Genre
Take the long standing conventions of a Genre and Flip them Upside Down
(Cowboys and Aliens)
Predict a Trend
Scan specialty magazines for immediate and long term trends that have not taken off yet.
-Who would care about this?
-What would that person do about it next year? In ten years?
-What would happen if all of society embraced this?
-What would happen if all of society rejected this?
-Who would it hurt the most?
-US News and World Report
Research something you are interested in.
Write down a plot idea as you research.
Let the plot drive the research for a while.
Give a character an obsession and see what s/he does.
Think of provocative opening lines and plot a story to go with it.
Come up with a gripping opening
Now the hard part=> Write the story to go with it.
Ready=>Write a word or a concept in a circle in the middle of the page
Fire=> Without thinking about them, allow you mind to write down associations and connections as fast as you can
Aim=>Scan the map for an idea Find a clock, watch, or timer to help you keep track of time. Put a word you’d like to explore in the center of a piece of paper and put a circle around it. As fast as you can, free-associate or jot down anywhere on the page as many words as you can think of associated with your center word. If you get stuck, go back to the center word and launch again. Speed is important and quantity is your goal. Don’t discount any word or phrase that comes to you, just put it down on the page. Jot words for between 5-10 minutes. When you are finished you will have a page filled with seemingly random words. Read around on the page and see if you have discovered anything or can see connections between any ideas. Open the dictionary to a random page, point your finger to a random word, and write it down in the middle of a piece of paper. Set a timer for five minutes. Ready? Go!
Using that word as a jumping off point, map out as many different thoughts from that word as you can. Don’t worry if they’re too small, too big, too ridiculous, too dumb, have no way to tie into a story.
The goal here is quantity, not quality, so turn off your inner editor and just keep writing down the thoughts. As you start building up threads around your anchor word, feel free to do the same to one of your spin-off words too, as they inspire you.
When the timer dings, look over the story idea web you've created. I promise there are seeds of new stories in there, so find them.
Come up with the ending first
-Visualize a climatic scene
-Hear the music
-Feel the full range of emotions burst forth
-Add a character that will heighten the conflict
-Play around with other variations on the theme until something unforgettable happens
-Who are the characters?
-What circumstances brought them here?
-How can I trace back the story to its logical starting point?
At the very least, this exercise gives you some strong characters
Ideas based on researching intriguing work
Dictionary of Occupational Titles by US Labor [http://www.occupationalinfo.org/
“Get black on white.”--Maupassant
“Don't get it right, just get it written.”--James Thurber
“I was so desperate to write something, I was facing the wall of my study in my house in New Rochelle and so I started to write about the wall. That's the kind of day we sometimes have as writers. Then I wrote about the house that was attached to the wall. It was built in 1906, you see, so I thought about the era and what Broadview Avenue looked like then: trolley cars ran along the avenue down at the bottom of the hill; people wore white clothes in the summer to stay cool. Teddy Roosevelt was President. One thing led to another and that's the way that book began, through desperation to those few images.” --E. L. Doctorow about writing Ragtime.
Describe a setting around you. Just start.
Collect things that resonate with your emotions and write them down in the a file. Capture it as true to the moment as you can
Pick a time when you are not doing something else and think about what glimmered at you over the last week and write them down.=> Glimmer Dump
Let them cook in your mind for a while.=> Glimmer Simmer
Go through them from time to time to use them for your writing.
This technique helps you look at your subject from six different points of view (imagine the 6 sides of a cube and you get the idea).
Take your topic or idea and
*associate it with something else you know,
*analyze it (meaning break it into parts),
*apply it to a situation you are familiar with,
*argue for or against it.
Write at a paragraph, page, or more about each of the six points of view on your subject.
Think about your topic in terms of each question a journalist would ask: Who? What? Where? When? How? And Why?
What? So What? Now what?
Ask yourself, “What do I want to explore?” Write about that topic for a page or more.
Read what you have written and ask “So what?” Write for a page or more.
Finally ask yourself, “Now what?” Write where you might go next with the idea.
Although this suggestion is simple and may seem obvious, it is often overlooked. Write definitions for key terms or concepts in your own words. Find others’ articulations of the terms in your course readings, the dictionary, or through conversations and compare the definitions to your own. Seek input from your instructor if you can’t get a working definition of a term for yourself.
Sometimes it’s helpful to simply describe what you know as a way to solidify your own understanding of something before you try to analyze or synthesize new ideas. You can summarize readings by individual articles or you can combine what you think are like perspectives into a summary of a position. Try to be brief in your description of the readings. Write a paragraph or up to a page describing a reading or a position.
Metaphors or similes are comparisons sometimes using the words “like” or “as.” For example, “writing is like swimming” or the “sky is as blue as map water” or “the keyboard wrinkled with ideas.” When you create a metaphor, you put one idea in terms of another and thereby create a new vision of the original idea. Sometimes it may be easier to create a metaphor or simile may help you understand your view of an idea before you can put it fully into sentences or paragraphs. Write a metaphor or simile and then explain to someone why your metaphor works or what it means to you.
Sometimes ideas come clearest when you can put them in a frame that is meaningful to you. Take a concept from your reading assignments and apply it so a situation in your own life or to a current event with which you are familiar. You may not end up using this application in your final draft, but applying it to something you know will help you to understand it better and prepare you to analyze the idea as your instructor directs.
There’s a ton of great writing prompt sources out there, from websites to entire books of them. Use them! They can stretch your thinking in new directions and give you story ideas you might not find on your own.
The Write Practice (http://thewritepractice.com/) offers a prompt right here on the blog weekly, or check out our 14 Prompts ebook(evernotecid://8F008973-FC9A-4BE3-A384-79E2CA75F3E0/ENNote/p3363#). Another one of my favorites is DIY MFA’s Writer Igniter (http://diymfa.com/writer-igniter). Seventh Sanctum runs a huge number of various prompt generators. Take your time and explore their site: http://www.seventhsanctum.com/index.php
Reveals your deepest assumptions about something
Write 3 fundamental assumptions that define what you are working on
Now reverse those assumptions and ask yourself how that could be true
Brainstorm several ways to make the reversal true for every assumption
3 Assumptions: Fixes Cars; Charges Money; Specialized Skill
Reversal: No special skill
Working in his own garage and really shouldn't be?
Does not charge money
Won lottery and fixes them for friends
Does not fix cars
Works at junk yard and tears cars apart
Escape looking at the problem in a traditional way
Frees up information to come together in new ways (De-familiarization)
When a character is about to make a decision, consider looking at the opposite of what you planned.
De-familiarization--Approaching a well known event as though you have never seen it before
Use this on flat characters.
Pick a random word (Noun)
List properties of the Noun
Ask how the character is like the properties of the random noun
Bike Racer Character
Random Noun: Canoe
Canoe properties: Wooden, Unstable, Cheap, Has a history
Bike Racer Character
Wooden--unable to open up to people
Unstable--Quick tempered and unreliable
Cheap with teammates, tight ass
Has a history--Family dynasty of racers and driven by father
What follows are some ideas I’ve found to be important in my experience:
Create time for solitude. In interviewing others, I found that solitude is the No. 1 creative habit of highly creative people. If you’re immersed in online distractions and other busy-ness, you’ll never have the space to consider the ideas you’ve gleaned from elsewhere, or think about how to remix them. So while connection is important (see other steps below), time for solitude is just as critical and often forgotten.
Search for interesting ideas. What are other people doing? Don’t read about the ideas of others so you can compare yourself to them and feel bad, but simply for the cultivation of interesting ideas. They’re all over, in blogs and online magazines, to the people you meet every day who are doing interesting things, to the friends and family you interact with regularly. Read a lot, observe more.
Keep an idea file. As you find interesting ideas, throw them into a text file. You don’t need to ever use them, but just keep notes. You can review this every couple of weeks, and see if anything sparks something for you.
Reflect on ideas, apply them to your field. Are you a novelist? Can you take ideas from your favorite books, like magical realism or suspense devices, and put them into yours somehow? Whatever your field, there are ideas from within your field, and other places, that could possibly be applied to what you’re doing. Take a few moments, maybe in the shower or on your commute or on a daily walk or run, to think about how you might apply these ideas to your projects. Then write them in your idea file — you don’t have to do these new ideas, but if they really excite you, consider it.
Iterate on what you’ve come up with. Remixing a couple of ideas in new ways isn’t the end of the process. You might find new ideas to add to the mix. You might remix the same ideas in new ways. The process continues for as long as you continue to stir the pot, and could get better and better, so don’t give up on your stew.
Writing from the Middle Exercise
Write Open the Mind
This exercise comes from Writing Open the Mind by Andy Couturier. Please check out his book. It is packed with ways to mine the cosmos for brilliance using the subconscious. I have no connection to any of the people, books, blogs or websites I recommend. I recommend only what worked for me, and Writing Open the Mind is a must have for any writer. It is crammed with exercises, all of which I have used and which have helped me.
Take a sheet of paper and turn it sideways. Think about a question in your novel you wish answered, a plot point you want to advance, or a vague idea you had for a novel. Write that at the top of the page. Under the heading write the following column headings: People | Concepts | Places | Questions | Emotions.
Now, get an egg timer, or download one for your smart phone, or use eggtimer.com from the internet. Give yourself seven minutes and fill in the categories. Don’t worry about what you put in the categories, that is for your subconscious to worry about. Your job is only to keep your hand moving. Write as fast as you can. Put in a shopping list if you must but keep it going. Fill up the full seven minutes.
Done? Now unfocus your eyes and circle 7 items from your page. Move your hand around to the different collumns but circle items at random, numbering them 1-7.
Great. Go for a walk. Wash the dishes. Play with the dog. Take a 30-90 min break. Do NOT watch TV, pay bills, update FaceBook, do your calculus homework. Don’t do anything that requires thought. This time is part of your writing. It only appears like you are goofing off. Maybe it even feels a little like goofing off. That’s good. Writing should be fun. While your conscious mind is playing, your subconscious is hard at work. You’ll see the results of its hard labor when you come back to your desk.
Back from your break? Feeling refresshed. Great. Now you get to choose—computer or pen and paper. Either will give you something good, but they will give you different things. They access different parts of the brain.
If you are using pen and paper, put your seven items you circled at the top of seven pages of blank paper. Set your eggtimer for 25 min. Now write about the first item. Again, keep your hand moving. Even if what comes out has nothing to do with the topic, don’t worry about it. Just keep going. When you run out of steam, move to the next topic.
Write a story based on a Random Title Generator. [ http://www.mcoorlim.com/random.html ]
Pick two of your favorite books, movies, or TV shows and see what happens when worlds collide. There are endless possibilities if you try this trick yourself. What would happen if Cinderella were a science-fiction story? (Marissa Meyer’s Cinder.) How would your modern day Sherlock Holmes story read? What would happen if Goldilocks were a gothic story?
Pretend you are a character from your story. Now describe his or her home. Then go outside. See hear and touch everything from the character's POV. Then have the character become your invisible friend. Point things out in your world that might be new to your friend.
Shinrin Yoku (Forest Bathing)
Go somewhere with trees. A forest is best. Smell the air, feel the essence of the forest. When you are ready, let your character lead you to a tree. Place the character's hands on the tree and have him confess his deepest, darkest secret and fear to the tree. Record the confession.
Go to a public place and eavesdrop on the people there. Take notes. Write down snippets of conversation. Write character description. Write setting. Make up a backstory for one of the people. Now put it all together in a story.
Lost in Translation
Listen to an unfamiliar song in a Foreign language you can't understand. Now write down your translation of the lyrics of the song. Free associate as needed. Estra points for writing jibber is and nonsense.
Go shopping with your character and let them pick the store. Then let them show you an object in the store. Let the character describe the object to you while you have your eyes closed. Feel it all over. Shake it. Rap it with your knuckles. Taste it? Finally, open your eyes and examine it. Now write a story or poem about it or fit it into the story you are currently writing.
Use crayons, colored pencils, markers or paints to draw a picture of your character's life in 10, 20, 30 years beyond the end of the story.
Draw the next scene of your story using crayons, colored pencils, markers or paints.
Write out 50 endings for the story. That will exhaust the internal critic and loosen up the subconscious.
|Rewrite Grimm's||Follow These Instructions to rewrite a Grimm Fairy Tale.|
|Ray Bradbury||Do what Bradbury did. Wake up every morning for a week and free associate a list of words (or images, or doodles, or whatever works for you). Give yourself 5 minutes and just write every word that pops into your mind without editing and without stopping. Then take one of those words (or a group of them) and use it as the basis for a story or character or plot. Don’t let yourself off the hook. Find a way to make it work.|
|Mine Your Soul||1. List 5-10 keywords that describe your roles in life very simply--no compounds. For me it might be wife, mother, writer ...|
2. List at least 10 things that your are interested in learning more about. What did you search for in Google recently? Reading any nonfiction? What documentary did you watch recently?
3. List some small niche groups you belong to. Your profession? Odd hobby?
Now randomly pick one item from each list and combine them. What story does this suggest?