Writers are often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?”
While some of us have perhaps too many ideas (see my folder of unfinished
novels), others need help.
Writing Tip for Today: Here are a few ways to cultivate new
ideas for your writing:
One of my easiest ways to shape a new writing idea—whether it
be a novel story arc, an idea for an essay or a poem—is by taking a stroll
through my memories. As a writer, I am a perpetual “noticer,” that is, I
observe not only the overall but also the very particular.
While painful memories or trauma often yield the most intense gut reaction, you can also mine your life for the happiest moments. Close your eyes and imagine the place, the characters, the circumstances. Use concrete (particular) sensory details (sight, sound, taste, touch and smell) to animate the memory. Then (be brave for less-than-joyful memories) add in your emotions. This may take many tries before the true feelings emerge.
Another way to use memories is to do mash-ups. Take a more
recent event and place it in another time frame. Change character gender,
appearance or temperament. Change the ending. See how your story changes as the
Fly on the Wall
Writing is observation to a large degree. If you are
reaching for fresh story ideas, go to a mall, restaurant or an event where you
can be the fly on the wall. Eavesdrop (tactfully) on conversations for dialogue
ideas. Take note of body language and appearance. Jot down as many interesting
details as possible (without getting caught!).
You can use the mash-up idea here too. Mix and match details
to create a unique character, setting or story arc. Peoplewatching is a great
way to develop specific traits for your characters: the odd way a man walks, how
natural dialogue sounds, the way a teen snaps her gum or tosses back her hair.
Prompts for All Seasons
If you’re still grasping for new ideas, writing prompts offer an endless variety of ways to build a character or story. My friend Hope Lyda’s forthcoming book My Unedited Writing Year is a gem and chock-full of original writing prompts.
Another great resource is the older book What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Pamela Painter and Ann Bernays. Even without a guide, you can always play the “What if?” game to shape a story.
Coming up with new ideas often involves matching old story
archetypes (there really are only a handful of story types) with the specific people,
places and things you observe either through memory, observation or even a
hypothetical writing prompt. May your writing take on new and exciting ideas
this coming year!