_willard_rat (_willard_rat) wrote,
_willard_rat
_willard_rat



Before you can start to write, you need something to write about. So where do writers get their ideas? Many writers will answer that ideas can be found anywhere and everywhere, but that doesn't help much when you're stuck. So here are --in no particular order -- ten useful paces to look for ideas when you want to write, but don't know what to write about.

1) Dreams
Dreams aren't very good for providing complete stories; stories need to be causally connected, while dreams have no need for logic at all. Still, dreams can provide the seeds for stories, poems, and even essays. If you have interesting dreams, try keeping a dream journal -- that will give you a place to go when you're looking for things to put in a piece of writing. Try this even if you usually have boring dreams. Sometimes paying attention to your dreams stimulates them to become more vivid.

2) The news
While real life often doesn't make good fiction (see the logic comment in the dreams section), it can provide useful episodes for stories and images for poems. Watch some news on tv or browse through a newspaper, and see what catches your attention. You can borrow incidents from the real world, and then change them to suit your own writing. Play "what if?" What if the criminal in a recent murder case was the villain from your last short story? What if the victim was your hero's best friend?

3) Fairy tales
Fairy tales can be a rich source of material for all kinds of writing. The key here is to take the old stories and make them your own somehow. Filter them through your own world view, or change them to suit your own way of thinking. Remember that there are more fairy tales than the ones you might remember from Disney or bedtime story books, too. Go looking and see what you can dig up, then find a new way to tell them, combine them, or borrow elements from them.

4) Eavesdropping
It's usually considered impolite to listen in on conversations between other people, but it is also one of the best tools a writer has. Overheard snippets of dialogue or bits of the one half of a phone conversation you can hear can be great sources of ideas. Try to imagine what the context of such fragments might have been, and invent new contexts and new speakers. A boring bus ride can become interesting if you look at it as a chance to collect material.

5) Art books
As the old saying goes, "A picture is worth a thousand words." In the case of idea-finding, a picture can be worth a lot more than a thousand words. In fact, a picture can be the spark for a whole story, or a whole series of poems. You just need to find the right picture (or several pictures). Art books can be great for this. Ignore any contextual information or meaning provided by the book and just look at the pictures. See if any of them suggest stories, and then get writing.

6) Magazines
Magazines have all sorts of different idea-generating contents that you can use. Like newspapers, they might have current events. There might be art or photographs, interesting advertisements, and even classifieds. Flip through some magazines and sooner or later something of interest will jump out at you. Perhaps a photograph will suggest a character or a setting, or maybe a gossip column or personal ad can be turned into a plot. You never know what you'll find.

7) Your favorite writers
Imitating good writing can be a great way to learn, but eventually you'll want to write things in your own way. That doesn't mean you have to abandon your favorite writers as source material, though. A great book can suggest many different topics of research, plot twists to play with, and more. Even if you were to take the exact plot from a favorite book, your version would be a different book simply because your writing is different (not that I'd recommend this, though).

8) Your least favorite writers
Bad writing can be a great teacher, too; it shows you how not to do things. Works you don't like can be good sources of ideas because you can pick them apart to see where they don't work for you, then use some of the material and make it into something you do like. Have you ever read something and thought how stupid it was, and the writer should have . . . ? Whatever it is you thought the writer should have done is something you can do yourself.

9) Old people
You may dread the thought of sitting through Great-Uncle Waldo's war stories, or Grandma Nell's accounts of the depression, but the elderly can be fabulous sources of story material. They've lived through a lot more history that you have, and they're bound to have an interesting take on life. There's something in the stories they tell that makes them want to share them -- find that something and you're likely to have a seed you can build a story around, at the very least.

10) Your friends
If all else fails, try your friends (or try them first, if you want). If they're readers, ask them what kind of things they'd like to read. Try to get something specific, like a story about a girl lost in the jungle, or poems about high school hell. If they're movie fanatics, see if they have ideas about what would make a great movie -- sometimes good movie ideas can be good story ideas, too. If they don't read or watch movies, just try to find out what things interest them deeply.
- Taken from Top 10 Places to Find Ideas by Niko Silvester
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