The quickest way to start a story is with the following formula:
WHO + WHAT + WHY + WHEN + WHERE + HOW
Piecing your ideas together
A book is never just one idea. Normally, it’s an amalgamation of different ideas.
Have you ever thought of a good idea for a story, but then struggled to make it stretch into a full-length book?
The idea might not be ready yet. Write the idea down. Let it stew. Then, another idea might come along – from something you’ve read or watched, from an everyday interaction, from a life-changing experience, from a personal viewpoint – that you can patch onto the idea you wrote down.
Now it might be starting to look more like a book. Bolt on a few more ideas and you’ve got a fully-fledged concept to start working on.
Essentially, no idea is a wasted idea, even if it’s not enough to kick-start a book. Write all your ideas down, and come back to them later.
Where else can you get ideas for a book?
For each of the following idea-generator, write a story idea that could come out of it.
- Write what you know (but try and avoiding writing yourself as a main character. More on that in our module on Writing Characters).
- Write a book you wish you could read. As Toni Morrison says: “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
- Observe people and their interactions. Make up backstories for people you meet.
- Ask yourself “what if?” This can be a good question to pose when it comes to writing Fantasy fiction. For example: “what if the Loch Ness Monster were real?”, “what if there really were monsters under the bed?”, “what if the tooth fairy was actually an evil mastermind?”
- Start with a title. This isn’t for everyone – a lot of writers struggle with titles, to the point that they don’t choose a title until they’ve finished the book. However, titles can also be a good way to come up with an idea.
- Go personal. What are you interested in? What’s your area of expertise? What do you daydream about? What would you like to learn more about?
- If you’re really stuck for an idea, writing prompts can help. There’s plenty of them online, and you can specific different genres or age ranges.
- Bounce ideas around with a writer’s group or even friends and family. Sometimes talking through your ideas out loud can help you work through them.
- Start with a character, and then build a story
- Use your genre to break or follow conventions.
- Read the news.
- Dive into history (a lot of writers swear by wandering round graveyards to be inspired by names on headstones).
- Come up with improbable question and answer it.
- Do a dream diary for a week.
- Do free-writing for five minutes everyday, either when you wake up or when you go to sleep.
Learn the market by reading your genre. Read good books and bad books. Mainstream and indie. This will also help later on when you’re writing your cover letter and you will need to include comp titles. Publishing a book is a craft and a profession. You need to know if your book is marketable to agents and where it would sit on the shelf.
Ask yourself: is your idea commercial with a unique twist? How have you built on a familiar concept? Need something new and expected. Is there a perspective that hasn’t been done yet?
Reflect on your idea
Give your ideas time to grow and develop. Daydream about the idea. Let it cook up in your head. Writing should be the translation of the book from your head to the page, so it’s easier if you have the idea ready-formed.
Jack Kerouac famously spent years thinking of the idea for On the Road, drawing inspiration from various experiences, and then sat down and wrote the book in a few weeks.
TASK: If you’ve got an idea, spend the new few weeks just thinking about it. Daydream about it. See if it grows over the weeks. Resist starting your story.
Don’t worry about “what if my ideas has been done before.” Originality comes because you wrote it, and there’s been no one else like you before. New perspective. Books will always contain universal story elements. Romeo and Juliet and Titanic seem cliched romance plots but have an unexpected twist and are now iconic love stories.
REMEMBER: Banish your mental editor when you’re coming up with ideas. Don’t stop an idea from taking shape early on – let it grow, and then analyse it once you’ve thought it through.
Ideas: PART 2
How often have you heard that we all have a story in us?
Well, you’re signed up for this course and are reading this, so you must have a story in you, bursting to get out. And that is fantastic.
The desire to tell a story is amongst our more primal forms of communication, an ancient way for us to pass on vital life lessons from one generation to the next, to enhance survival chances and continuation of our species.
But ideas are rarely fully formed. They come in fragments: maybe it’s a character or a scene, or an emotion or feeling. Usually layered upon, bit-by-bit, over time. And finally, when those small elements start to merge, they form something more coherent that can germinate into a full story idea.
We all get ideas, some of us every single day, often when in the shower, out on a walk or sitting on the loo! YES, it’s always at those times when you can’t jot them down. But it’s important you do.
Lately, I’ve become better at this, and it’s made such a difference to my current story. I used to think if I had an idea for a story, it would just stay in my head if it was good enough. I now realise that while more than 90% of my ideas will probably never make it into a story, I’m giving myself the choice of much more material than I ever had before.
Creativity begets creativity. The more ideas you write down, the more ideas you’ll have.
But what if you’re one of those people who never gets ideas. Or doesn’t know what to do with them, how to make a story from that seedling. To make it germinate, flower and look beautiful upon a shelf…
Simply study the world around you, the people in it, the situations in the news…study them and ask one massive question: WHAT IF?
WHAT IF Luke wasn’t a moisture farmer, but was actually a Jedi Knight?
WHAT IF Clark Kent, the mild-mannered reporter, was actually an alien with superpowers?
WHAT IF the most famous wizard in the world had no idea, and slept under the stairs at his aunt’s house?
WHAT IF a boy thinks he’s doing a computer simulation of a space battle, but he later finds out it was real?
WHAT IF Stuart White was really a Sith Lord, sent to train unsuspecting children’s writers in the ways of the Dark Side of the Force?
Just keep observing, keep asking WHAT IF and sooner or later the ideas will start to form and develop.
So, I’m guessing you all have come to here with an idea for a story? Shall we get germinating then?
Next Topic: GETTING STARTED
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