Thursday, July 24, 2014

Where Stories Come From


One of the most frequently asked questions I get is: Where do you get your ideas from?

Answer: From everywhere.

Here are some steps I take in building a story:

Step 1: At first it starts as hearing or seeing or thinking about something that strikes me as interesting, or a concept that I want to explore more. This is all about observation.

Here are a few places I’ve gotten ideas from:

Overheard conversations

The news

Song lyrics

Literature

Ads for products

You tube videos

My own experiences

Poetry, plays, essays

Myths

Historical events

TIP: WRITE IT DOWN!

I promise, if you don’t, you will forget it.

An example: I was at the grocery store in the middle of summer, and there was this teenager employee wearing a bright colored beanie and character-themed shirt under his apron, and he was dancing to some music in his head as he walked through the parking lot to gather carts.  I watched him for a minute, and an idea for a character started to form.

Step Two: Take your interesting idea, quote, person, etc. and build on it. Make it your own by asking, “What if…?”

What if the grocery boy wore a beanie in summer because he had something obscene shaved into his head? What if he hid it from his dad? Or what if his dad was the one who had shaved the word into his head?  But he’s dancing in the lot, because he’s happy, so maybe there are no obscene words. No, he’s happy because he just got good news. What if he just found out he got into the college he wants and that means he can finally escape his suffocating family? But Dad is in a work-related accident, and now grocery boy has to give up his dreams of leaving so he can take care of his family? What if he chooses to run away and go to college despite his family’s need? Would he regret it? Would he be relieved? What if his little sister runs away too, to find him because things get so bad, and she disappears? No one can find little sister, Dad is injured, Mom isn’t speaking to him, and his dream isn’t as glossy as it was before he started chasing it.

Or what if he DOES stay home, and he starts to resent everyone and everything, and it’s at this point that he meets THE GIRL (because, in my books, there is always THE GIRL or THE BOY that makes life that much more complicated, but also worth living.) What if The GIRL is the one who caused his dad’s accident? Etc, etc.

 I have whole notebooks full of brainstorming like this. Usually the book will take on its own direction the more I write. I’ll start down a line of thought and get really excited about it and just keep chasing it until I have something work-able.

TIP: Don’t be afraid of dumb ideas while in the brainstorming stage. Sometimes a dumb idea will lead you to a brilliant one.

Step 3: Take these “What if” scenarios and start plotting.

Some people like to dive in and discover their story as they write it. I used to write that way, but it requires a lot more revising.

I like to write a rough outline at this point so that I know all my main points of conflict and exactly how the book is going to end. Usually, I like the end to reflect the changes I want to see in my character and his/her situation.

At no point do I stop asking: What if?

Tip: Have fun with it! If the story starts to feel stale or boring, go back and do another “What if” brainstorming session.

Where do you get your ideas from?

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