Here’s the thing about ideas. Either they never come or they flood your mind as if they own it. It’s great when the latter happens. All you have to do is jot them down on any handy medium. But what if you’re from the former category? First, rest easy. All writers go through phases of floods and droughts. Creative juices flow in waves and sometimes, the well does run dry. It’s equally easy to refill that well, though. Here are eight techniques that I’ve tried to get new ideas come to me. Hopefully, some or all of them work for you too.
Step 0: Determine what you want to write
A majority of the steps below vary depending on your writing domain. Domain could be as broad as fiction or non-fiction, as specific as adult urban fantasy. Depending on where you’re in your journey and how informed you are about your interests, you got to zero in on your domain. Keep in mind that domains can change and you should be willing to experiment with them. That’s the best thing about ideas. They’re free-flowing and it’s easier if you don’t limit them. I’ll delve deeper into the domains on a future post.
1. Flip, Flip, Flip! The Page, I Mean
It goes without saying that the more you read, the more you learn. What’s a writer without a compelling love for reading? So, read a lot.
But “read a lot” can sound too vague an advice. Although most of us are readers by default, it might be critical to read material that’s relevant to your domain(s). Say, you’re interested in writing a mystery. Reading mystery stories might move your gears faster than reading a romantic comedy. It also helps to read an assortment of mystery stories. Grab five books- a procedural, a Gothic mystery, a contemporary cozy, a thriller exploring political issues, and a story where mystery is a key subplot. Consuming stories that handle mysteries differently is important to expose your mind to diverse content that might help you zero in on your own interest later on.
2. Don’t Live Under a Rock
I know. Politics has become too polarizing for our escapist tastes. For many of us, writing is a therapy to cope with the horrors of the real world but not indulge further. And it’s perfectly understandable for them to skip this idea. But for the others, read on.
Conflict is key to any story. There’s usually one, or more, depending on how complex you want your story to be. Either way, a strong conflict must resonate with the characters, their world, and the readers. It keeps the pages turning and jaws dropping. Some conflicts are cut-and-dry, others are morally grey and have no solution that pleases all parties. You know what else is an endless repository of conflicts that fit these bills? News.
World news, to be precise. Conflicts have different stakes for different people. Certain conflicts might mean nothing to us but everything to someone. Looking at such problems offers us perspective and depth that we can bring to our stories. World history is another excellent source to look for conflicts and stakes. Watch a newsroom debate and take cues from the speakers on their tactics, strategies, and arguments. Where does the altercation escalate? Where does the moderator step in? What is the body language of each person? Who’s the dominant one (and the passive one)? What are their choice of words? The list is endless if you think about it.
3. Sometimes, You Sing a Story
Music transcends boundary and speaks a universal tongue. It’s a way to express the emptiness we have and try our best to fill. Naturally, it tells stories.
Ever paid attention to a song? I mean, really paid attention? To its notes, the choice of words, the tone, the beats, its ambiance, the texture of voices, the emotion they create within you? Crank up Spotify, Pandora iHeartRadio or SoundCloud, close your eyes and let your mind run wild. And when something clicks, save that song and hit replay. Now, allow your mind to conjure a different meaning to it. See which one sticks with you. Note down what you saw with your mind’s eye. Sometimes, it’s all you need to build a strong premise. My work in progress is a four-book series that originated from one song I heard on a TV show; which brings me to the next idea.
4. Binge on those Shows and Movies
In the age of digital streaming, you don’t have an excuse of not having enough options to catch some brilliant shows and movies.
Your jam could again be anything under the sun. Pick the one that makes your heart jive and palms sweat. It could be an Anime, a teen soap, a superhero flick, a chick-flick, a rom-com, a slasher, or a disaster-movie. Chances are, you’re already micro-analyzing it for various story elements and structure. You’re questioning character motivations, that cliffhanger in the season finale, the plot point that never got answered in the series, or that witty dialogue between two of your favorite characters. Look at your repository of watch lists on YouTube, Netflix, Crunchy Roll, Prime, Hulu, or anywhere else you consume media. What genres do those shows/movies fall under? Do you reckon you could write a better screenplay than theirs? Take up the challenge and work one out. Just an outline. Maybe rewrite one awesome scene in your way. Make a fan-fiction out of it. See how the words flow. See if it triggers something different in your head. Cue the next idea.
5. Write. Even if it’s Crap
Consider this the car you’re test-driving, the shoes you’re trying, the dress you’re taking to trial room. Sometimes, you have to write to know what works. And what doesn’t.
It follows from the previous idea. Take a classic scene or setting and try rewriting it in your way. Change the character backstories and motivations. I recall rewriting the Act-3 scene from James Cameron’s Titanic where Cal realizes Rose has the Heart of the Ocean. Having him pursue them for it would be a digression that the 1997 movie couldn’t afford. But I expanded that scene, asking myself “what if Cal had gone after the couple?” The point here isn’t to churn out a masterpiece but to get your writing gears moving.
Observe how easily the words flow onto the paper or screen. Are you struggling to construct sentences and dialogues? Some of us advanced folks can even go ahead and expand the alternate premise into full-fledged scenes or chapters. It’s what fan-fictions are, after all. If you’re bold enough, open an account on Wattpad and share the work. See if your writing gains traction. See what others like about your style, your narrative voice. Also pay attention to what they don’t like. Analyze the original scene and see what worked. This exercise is futile without the homework. But remember, the goal is to experiment different writing styles and see which one clicks for you. Maybe, an idea will come along the way!
6. Talk to Others
The world has never been so close. With the click of a few buttons, you can connect with anyone you want to. It’s intimidating, but not all that complicated.
The key is to develop meaningful connections. Networking is a skill in itself and not everyone can do it with ease. I’m great with text but my heart races at the thought of making a YouTube video. People are different and like different levels of socialization. So, the first step is to figure out what that level is. Do you like to remain anonymous? Are you okay with being public and well-known in your community? There are different platforms for each of us, and some of the best platforms to engage with fellow readers/writers are (in my opinion): Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, Quora, Facebook, and Instagram. Then, there are applications such as Wattpad that could be engaging depending on what you write/read.
Follow threads, respond to conversations, follow people you like, engage with their content, and maybe contact a few who are open to personal messages. What’s the worst that can happen? They don’t respond? You get blocked? At least, you tried. A strong disclaimer- follow the platform’s policies and netiquette when reaching out. Nobody likes a loose cannon or a critique who offers hate without constructive feedback. With that said, the more like-minded friends you make, the more you get to explore ideas that might lead somewhere.
7. Tap into Your Life
It can be scary, sometimes, to look into yourself. We think we know ourselves until life throws a curve-ball. Well, if you knew yourself, it wouldn’t be a curve-ball to begin with.
Some of us subconsciously do it. Actually, most of us do. What we write is a reflection of our views and ideas as seen through our lens. For those of us who have the habit of writing journals or working on daily affirmations, this would be a breeze. The key is to get more in-tune with yourself. You don’t have to get too spiritual here, just enough to be able to ask yourself some tough questions and explore answers. Maybe, make the character ask those questions and the story could be about them finding those answers.
Self-inserts and wish-fulfillment are other extremes and readers will see through your idea/writing if you go down that rabbit hole. Jot thoughts that come to you and pick some. Tap into your hobbies and investigate how they make you feel. Look at your experiences, the childhood ones, and see if you can exaggerate them for dramatic effect. The possibilities are endless.
8. Have a Destination
Not all of us can afford to travel the world. I know what you’re thinking. “So, what’s your point?”
My point isn’t to board a plane, train, car, or ship and physically haul your ass. I mean, if you can do that, good for you. For the rest of us that work part-time, study, and juggle a family, there’s Google. Launch the Maps or Google Earth and place yourself anywhere you want to be. It might sound lame but when you hit that Street View and walk the streets, it offers a worthwhile experience. Of course, it’s not going to be as great, but it’s more than just sitting at your desk and staring at the writing prompt cursor. The goal is to see if any place or setting triggers something. Does an architecture stir an idea? Does the city or village remind you of something? You can even try Pinterest for further inspiration.
Some people like to travel for a peace of mind. Maybe take a trip down to the nearest park, beach, or place of worship; whatever soothes your mind. Hit the gym or trail if it takes pumping blood to flex those creative faculties. Anything is better than brooding over lack of ideas. Right? Right.
So, there you have it, folks! Let me know if any of these ideas work for you. Also, comment below if you have any techniques that weren’t listed above. I’d love to try new techniques too.
Have fun writing!