Ciao, SEers. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday. I intended to spend my time off entirely work-free, and while I didn’t open my laptop, I couldn’t turn off my mind. When I wasn’t soaking up every second I could with my daughter, I was thinking about my workload for 2022. I have stories in various stages, from conception to ready-to-publish. That got me thinking… maybe this year, I’d write a series of posts discussing important points from coming up with an idea through getting ready to publish.
Today is part one: idea generation. We’ve already discussed this topic (see earlier posts from me and Denise), but I’m going to approach this in a slightly different way. Instead of talking about where to find these ideas, I’m going to talk about how to find them and what to do with them once you have them.
We’ve all heard the adage: write what you know. If you already know a lot about a subject, it does make it easy (or easier) to write about. That’s why so many lawyers write court dramas, why so many doctors write medical mysteries, and why so many detectives write thrillers. Their professional experiences lend to realism in their work. On the flip side, it can also lead to readers not connecting because they’re unfamiliar with the jargon or flat writing because the author is bored with the work.
That leads to an improved adage: write what you’d like to know, or write what you’re passionate about. Does this require a lot of research? Yes (and you can find excellent posts on research by Joan, me, and two by Mae on place and time). But if you’re excited about these topics, you won’t mind the research, and your work will have an enthusiasm to it because of your attitude.
So, you have your idea. Now what? David Baldacci says to look at life through a “writer’s prism” to develop your idea further. Everyone “people watches” at some point, but writers need to look at life a little differently. Where most of the world sees a groundskeeping crew mowing grass and laying white lines on a football field, a writer sees a potential school shooting or hostage situation. They imagine problems, then conceive of solutions. And not just the easiest solutions, but ones the average observer would never think of.
Taking that concept a step further, it’s not always enough to see one situation and start to build your scenario. Try two. Or three. The reason mashups are so popular in fiction is because (in their simplest forms) every story has already been told. To keep your stories fresh, try combining two genres or two conditions that you’d never expect. We all know West Side Story is essentially Romeo and Juliet. What made it a hit was that it took the concepts from Shakespeare’s tale but set it in modern times in a city. That new angle made it fresh. S.E. Hinton took that rival gang aspect, downplayed the romance angle, and created a poignant coming-of-age tale about what defines a family in The Outsiders. These mashups of different genres or different focuses result in new stories that surprise and delight viewers.
Finally, when you come up with your winning concept, don’t dive right in. Give the seeds of your story time to germinate and grow before you move on. That way, the idea will root and flourish or it will wither and die. The idea that grows and thrives is the one to develop. The one that languishes isn’t worth working on. Tend to the former, not the latter. It’ll save you time and aggravation if you wait for a while to make sure you’ve got something worth seeing through to the end.
- Write what you know (if you can sustain your passion for it).
- Write what you want to know (if you can do it justice through research).
- Study people and situations through a “writer’s prism” to generate ideas.
- Combine more than one idea or genre for a fresh story.
- Give your idea time to take root before moving on with it. If it doesn’t develop, cut your losses and move on. You haven’t wasted any work/time on it yet, and it’s easier to walk away.
Next time, we’ll discuss plot development. Until then, I’d love to know more about your ideation strategies. Please leave a comment below. Grazie!
Links to the Whole Series:
January 7: Idea Generation
February 2: Story Bible
February 28: Character
March 25: Dialogue
April 20: Plot
May 16: Constructing Chapters
June 10: Pacing/Tension/Suspense
July 6: Writing Suspense
August 1: Writing Action
August 26: Macro-Level Self-Editing
September 21: Mid-Level Self-Editing
October 17: Micro-Level Self-Editing
December 7: Planning a Series
Note: Links will only work on and after the date the post goes live.