Ten ideas for getting ideas: N M Browne

I don’t know about you but the question I get asked most often is: Where do you  get your ideas from?  I usually make some facetious remark about leaving chocolate out for the idea fairies or mining the subconscious with miniature drilling equipment. The more interesting question is how you go about getting ideas if for any reason the normal sources have dried up or given up chocolate for Lent. I was asked about this recently by another member of my newly formed crit group and these were my top ten solutions.

1.First go for a walk – ideally somewhere you don’t know but your own neighbourhood is fine. Check your watch/phone. Walk for ten minutes exactly – what ever you find there is the setting for your story.
The first person you meet next is either your protagonist or your antagonist. If its an adult they may not have to interact with your protagonist they may just be the person who decides that their house is being pulled down/they are being deported/ they can’t go to the school of their choice/ their mother can’t get the cancer drug/they will be on the last ship off the planet or whatever.
Buy a paper or download one. Find a story on page 5 – somehow that story contains the problem that will impact your protagonist. ( If nothing fits go to page 4 or 6 or the Sports pages)
I would definitely have a story brewing by this point. If nothing else the quest for a story can be reworked as a story for younger children.

2.Open a book at random turn to the sixth line of page 39 – that is is your opening line.

3. Go to somewhere full of kids (do not wear a mac and look dodgy) listen. Within four minutes you will have a conversation you can start your book with.

4. Here are some people:
1.witch, 2.bully, 3. android, 4.dancer,5 wild child, 6 healer
here are some situations:
1sudden death of a relative, 2breaking a leg, 3 catching the wrong bus, 4 falling down a hole, 5 winning a prize, 6 running away.
Here are some places:
1 Zoo,  2 fun fair/disneyland thing, 3 shopping centre, 4 swimming pool, 5 abandoned building, 6 forest.
What people want: 1 to be loved, 2. to escape slavery/drudgery/everyday, 3 to save someone they love, 4. To find something they’ve lost, 5 a home, 6. Their fortune.
I’m sure you can guess the next step. Find a die and roll it. If you get a 1 on your first roll your protagonist is a witch … keep rolling.

5. What is you’re the plot of your favourite children’s book? Write it out at every decision point in the story what would have happened if the protag had chosen differently – what would the story be and who would they have to be do have done other than they did. Maybe they are a coward or maybe they take action earlier than occurs in the story.

6 A related idea: What happens at the end of a favourite story – replace the characters with some borrowed from your second favourite book change the names, swap genders and then off you go.

7. What did you most want when you were a child? What would have happened if you got it but in getting it you lost something as important – a hand, a brother, your sight, a best friend, an opportunity.

8.Take a lesser known fairy story and make it contemporary. Gillian Cross did that with Wolf - sort of.  EG In Hansel and Gretel the kids are living rough taken in by someone who runs a hostel, who wants to traffic them or use them as slave labour, or perhaps use body parts for operations or …

9.Write the first ten words that come into your head on a piece of paper ( or pick ten objects from around the house.) Write an opening paragraph which uses all the words or a plot which connects the objects. Sometimes this frees up ideas.

10 This is what I actually do – write  down the first sentence that comes into your head then write another. 

So what are your top ten techniques for idea generation?


Chris Longmuir said…
Some great ideas for getting started her. I particularly liked the on where you roll the dice. I might try it sometime.
Unknown said…
I like your 'take a walk' and 'listen to conversations' ideas. There is so much happening around is that we don't always soak up in our busy lives. Ones that I'm sure will easily spark the first ideas to the next story.
Nick Green said…
Another good way is to pick something you care deeply about. Something that makes you really angry or shocked, or whatever it might be. Then put someone in that situation. That way your story has an impetus before you've written the first word.

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