Tag Archives: Story ideas

How to Write Great Story Ideas

Jurassic Park Is founded on great story ideas

Jurassic Park – a well of great story ideas

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AS a teacher of creative writing, I am often privy to complaints by new writers that their books or screenplays don’t get off the ground, sinking into obscurity instead.

Is it fate or just plain bad luck, they ask?

While it is true that luck plays a role in a writer’s success, it also true that you can’t keep good story ideas down.

Not just any good idea, mind you — a vibrant, original idea we haven’t encountered before, or, at least, an idea presented in a way that feels new; an idea that takes us places we’ve never been, fills us with wonder, introduces us to characters that captivate us.

Story ideas roll call

Consider some of my favorites stories: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, Jurassic Park, The Matrix, Stranger than Fiction, City Of God, 2001: A Space Odyssey, George Orwell’s 1984.

All of these, apart from being well-written, are fascinating and original. They grab our imagination and compel us to know more.

A mysterious black monolith that appears at crucial moments of man’s evolution to spur him on? Wow!

A procedure to erase painful memories from one’s mind. I want to know more!
Jurassic creatures brought to life through DNA preserved in a dollop of Amber? Yes, please!

A secret passage that takes us right into John Malkovich’s head! Who would have thought it!

These ideas are so good, so original, they sell themselves. They make for hugely successful stories – providing all other elements of fine writing are in place, of course.

I try I not to start writing a story until I am absolutely convinced that the idea behind it is as good, as original and unique, as it can be, because once I start, I find it difficult to change it mid-stream. I used this approach in my first novel, Scarab, about a quantum computer which can change the laws of physics. The novel quickly entered the best seller list in its category on Amazon, and stayed there for over two years!

My advice to myself is simply this: Start with an idea that fascinates. Isolate its captivating core then think about ways to make it more unique, more original.

Come at it from different angles, from the point of view of different characters, different genres, even different epochs. Write at least ten versions of the basic idea, trying, each time, to up the ante, then walk away from it for a week or two, to give it time to breathe, before repeating the process.

Once I’m convinced I have a good story idea, I test it on others. I watch their eyes as I speak. If they flick away, seem distracted, I’ve lost my audience somewhere. That happens a lot. The path back to the drawing board is well-worn.

Your process may differ from mine, but one thing seems likely: the more original and unique your idea, the more fascinating your story will be.

Summary

Fascinating, original, and well-written story Ideas are the antidote to writing obscurity.

How to Upgrade your Story Idea

Girl with light over head

Idea-to-Concept

How do you come up with a story concept that’s potentially a winner? In other words, how do you take an idea and turn it into a concept that causes movie producers or book publishers to sit up and take notice?

Start with the Basic Idea

Let’s say you have an idea for a story that goes something like this:

A story about the dangers of DNA experimentation.

Or

A story about a psychopath who skins young girls alive.

Or

A story about a man who keeps ending up in extraordinary situations.

Put the ideas in a “What-if format”:

1. What if unregulated experimentation with the DNA structures goes wrong?

2. What if an ordinary man keeps ending up in extraordinary situations?

3. What if a psychopath, who skins young girls alive, keeps evading the police?

The Magic of Modifiers

Modifiers are specific techniques used to trigger or inspire an improvement to the story idea. Listed below are some of the most important ones:

1. Take the idea to an extreme level.
2. Collide two opposites together.
3. Raise the stakes.
4. Make the environment unique.
5. Ensure you have the most appropriate main character.
6. Ensure you have special inter-character relationships
7. Include a unique dilemma.
8. Ensure it has a powerful twist.
9. Change the sex, age, race, nationality, species.
10.Change the norm.
11.Ensure your plot includes a fascinating plan or strategy.

Here are three examples of modifiers used to improve a story idea:

If we apply Modifier 1 to our first example, (what if unregulated experimentation with the DNA structures goes wrong), we might end up with a story about a theme-park full of prehistoric animals grown from the DNA acquired from the blood of mosquitos preserved in raisin—Jurassic Park.

Applying Modifier 2 to example 2 (what if an ordinary man keeps ending up in extraordinary situations), we could end up with a story about a simple-minded man who accidentally acquires wealth and becomes part of the most important political events of the 1960’s—Forrest Gump.

Applying Modifier 6 to example 3 (what if a psychopath, who skins young girls alive, keeps evading the police), might inspire us to come up with a story about a young female FBI agent who enlists the help of a brilliant cannibalistic psychiatrist who agrees to help her in exchange for playing mind-games with her—Silence of the Lambs.

As an exercise, try applying the remaining modifiers to some of your existing story ideas.

Summary

Taking an ordinary idea, putting it in a what-if format, and applying a modifier to it, often helps to lift it up to the level of an inspired story concept worthy of being turned into a book or movie.

Invitation

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How to Generate Novel Story Ideas

Head in a labyrinth with light bulb

Generating New Story Ideas

How does one generate new and exciting ideas for one’s stories? This perennial and important question has had many answers. Listed below, are some of them:

Idea-Generating Techniques

— Use personal experience to spark new and authentic story ideas. This helps to add verisimilitude and uniqueness to any piece of creative writing because it is based on first-hand knowledge of real-life situations.

— Keep a file of newspaper and magazine articles and stories; also, short notes on television documentaries and programs that have caught your eye. Use them to kick-start your thinking on a related subject.

— Use a notebook or digital device to document interesting bits of conversation, behaviour, dreams, personal encounters, dress codes.

— Explore new ideas by brainstorming a subject with colleges and friends. Free-associate fundamental aspects of that subject by introducing nouns and verbs not usually associated with it. Note the new relationships that emerge. Those may spark new ways of looking at old ideas.

— Ask that powerful idea-generating question:’What if…’. Combine it with an unexpected or opposing idea. If, for example, your subject is about a paid soldier of fortune, you could start by asking: What if a hardened mercenary is asked to assassinate a businesswoman who turns out to be his son’s wife who is pregnant with his child?

— Mind-map a subject or idea by writing down its core meaning in the middle of a blank page or screen. Create a series of associated ideas in bubbles around that core idea and draw links from one to the other. Again, try thinking laterally by linking unrelated ideas together and see what that sparks.

— When writing a scene, make it multidimensional by exploring it with all five of your senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch. Note the dominate sense operating within the scene then replay it in your imagination, using a different sense. Note how it changes your approach to writing the scene.

Summary

There are many ways to generate new ideas for stories. Personal experience, keeping files and notebooks, brainstorming with others, using the what-if question, mind-mapping, strongly projecting one’s self into an imagined scenario by applying all five senses to it, are just some of them.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.