Tag Archives: idea

How do you get story ideas?

The question goes to the nature of creativity, and it gets complicated and controversial.

The simple answer is, I look for them. I ask for them, and they arrive. The complications and controversy appear as I try to explain HOW that might happen.

Last week we took one news story and imagined a fictional plot, some milieu, and a few characters that might be developed. News items, especially strange ones, are stimulants to the imagination. It’s a quick way to get started.

“Michael” is another. When asked how he knew things in the movie, John Travolta’s angel character answered, “I pay attention.” It can be that simple. Pay attention to what is happening around you. Go to the mall or park. Better yet, go to a household auction and watch people. Go to a NASCAR race and imagine the lives of the individuals and families in the stands. Try Lambeau Field. Go wherever you have fun, and then pay attention.

Getting ideas is not my problem. I have them stacked up like cord wood waiting for the writing. I have the second novel in draft waiting for the first rewrite. The third, also a sequel, is pressing for me get started (I am prewriting). I have actually begun a few lines of the fourth novel, a prehistoric prequel. Then there are the nonfiction projects. Urgency is what I am feeling.

I would like to say that I don’t ask for any more story ideas, but I do. It’s a subconscious thing. I wonder. At the end of the first novel, I wonder what might happen to all these people of my imagination. I wonder what might happen, if…. Real prayer is subconscious.

Hence, the dream. I believe my story idea was a response to subconscious questions/concerns/prayers. Here comes another question (and story idea): Whence cometh answers to subconscious questions/concerns/prayers? While we’re at it, why not also ask, whence cometh questions/concerns/prayers? Yes, another story idea—or, maybe a nonfiction project.

Writing generates stories. It is a process of self discovery, of finding out what I think and feel at various levels. It reveals personal love and fear, acceptance and anger, cognitions and prejudices.

Ready to start? Take a walk. Pick up an item as simple as a stick or stone. Take it home. Put on some meditative music (I like R. Carlos Nakai) and ask the item to tell you a story. Write it down. STOP!

Don’t think about it so much. Just write. Give yourself a brief time limit (maybe 7 minutes).

Writing is a process of logical you communicating with creative you. It is a journey of art and craft. Let it happen.

What is a story idea?

You can, again, thank my wife, Nancy, for this question. An avid fiction reader, she has some great questions for writers. I would really like to read your questions and comments. This blog is meant to be but a launching pad for discussion.

Reducing the question to the simplest terms conceivable to me, today, I will say a story idea is one of three things. 1. It is an interesting character who the author comes to know and the readers come to enjoy—even if they hate him/her. 2. It is an interesting problem, situation, or difficulty that challenges the author and
readers—someplace for the character(s) to go with no known way of getting
there. 3. It is an interesting milieu—a setting of time, place, and circumstance—that fascinates the author and readers, that challenges belief without breaking it.

As an example, let us scan some news stories on this day, November 9th, 2011. Here’s one: CAIN ACCUSER FILED COMPLAINT AT NEXT JOB, TOO. Just for fun, we could explore this as a story idea. Where is the story?

Well, we certainly have a couple of interesting characters, here. Now, we are writing fiction, so we don’t want to base our character directly upon real people; however, a little memory and imagination might allow us to create a character with some attributes of Herman Cain, perhaps Bill Clinton, and a few others. We imagine a character with narcissistic tendencies, maybe a past of sexual abuse, perhaps an inferiority complex. We write a detailed description and biography with family, friends, and personal character traits. Love him and/or hate him, our character must evoke feelings.

But, he cannot get into trouble alone, and without trouble, his story is not interesting. We look to another character in the news story. Great. In this case, we have a few other characters. We can recall some of our acquaintances and generate one or more colorful characters. After all, we can only really get to know our main character through interactions with others, in this case, because the story is about relationships. Now, what shall we call him (that is as interesting as
Herman Cain)? Is our story serious or humorous?  Both? Hmmm. Max Grover? Maybe too obvious. Will Hornaday? No. Pat Germain? Please.

Okay. Maybe about now we decide to flesh out a plot. If our character does not emerge in full flesh to write the story for us, we can outline a series of difficulties leading to a major conflict that demands resolution. Maybe we start with a few incidents in high school or college that were not all that politically incorrect at that time, but which reveal a character weakness. From that, we can outline a few scenes through life becoming bolder as our character finds himself in increasingly stressful situations of power. Get the idea?

Maybe that setting of power and stress IS the story. Maybe the rungs of the corporate ladder, or the journey of political flesh pressing, or a caldron of combined corporate stress and political intrigue become the milieu in which interesting things necessarily happen. We might want to tell the story of corruption of decent but flawed people in this world of competitive thirst for power and status.

Write what you know. Any one of these approaches can lead to a provocative and entertaining story. Choose the way that fits you—your world view and experience. Of course, research is one way to gain experience. Read, get a job, and join a political party.

Personally, I like all three. I would say that BEYOND THE BLOOD CHIT is driven by two main characters set in a milieu of combat PTSD recovery within political chaos similar to recent global news. These two factors of character and milieu make conflict of plot inevitable. I chose to write about one character’s thoughts because psychology interests me (and I have experience). You might choose a very different path. The point is, any story will work if it is vividly compelling in character, plot, and/or milieu.