Saturday, December 27, 2008


One questions writers are asked quite often is "Where do you get your ideas?" That's an easy one to answer: Ideas are all around us all the time. You can find them in your everyday life, in the newspaper, by surfing the Internet, by watching TV or movies, or anywhere else. Ideas are a dime a, they're much cheaper than that. They're free, free, free!

As a writer, though, you need to mold these ideas into something that will make a good story--a story other people want to read. That's a little tougher. Just because you had a great idea about a misunderstood werewolf terrorizing the criminals of a large city doesn't mean you have a story. Yet. You still need to give that idea life. If you just create a faceless werewolf attacking criminals, you might have some neat images, but nothing to draw your readers in. Ideas rarely come to you with a full story attached to them--that's up to the writer to add. As an example, the idea that first came to me, the one that ended up as my short story "Playin' the Blues," was as simple as someone sitting in their bedroom and hearing a ghostly guitar riff coming from nowhere. It's an eerie image, and one I wanted to explore, but it was nowhere near a story. I needed to decide who would populate my story, where it took place, what the backstory was, and all the other good stuff that make it something people can read and enjoy.

If you have an idea that you think will make an interesting story, sometimes the story blossoms out with no troubles at all. More often, though, you need to coax it out (sometimes with a sledgehammer). My favorite is probably the best known method, one you'll find in almost any how-to writing book. I play "What if?" It's easy. You just take your idea and as questions that start with "What if..." Ask the same sort of question numerous times to get a full spectum of possibilities. Our brains like to take the easy way out, so usually the first couple are cliches or not as interesting. An example from our werewolf idea above might be: What if the man is mugged and near death when a werewolf bites him to save his life? That could be why he uses his wolfman powers to fight crime. "What if...?" not only helps you discover backstory and characters, but it also gets you through your story. You can what if yourself all the way to the ending.

Remember, if you're having trouble coming up with ideas, you're trying too hard. Ideas are easy to find. Just keep your eyes open, and you'll have a ton of ideas fall into your lap. When you're ready to sit down and start writing, you'll have a whole list of ideas to choose from; you just need to find the story in them. Play around with them to find what you want to write about. If one idea doesn't sing to you, move on to another and play around with that one. You'll get a great story idea sooner or later--hopefully sooner! Until next time, have fun writing!