No matter what road one takes to publishing (traditional, self or other) it all stars the same way:
That little nugget of a plot or character grows into something that could, maybe, possibly, be a story. That basic idea bumps around in one’s mind for a while so that the idea’s owner can claim that they “have an idea for a story”. And, they can outline a simply plot. Normally, this interaction is followed by some excuse as to why they haven’t written it. In my experience, that excuse revolves around lack of time.
But that’s a different blog post.
I recently read a quote about how authors hate being asked where they get their ideas from. Apparently, it is difficult to figure out where an idea began. I, oddly, do not have this problem. 95% of the time, I can trace my ideas back through one of two paths to its origin. It either came to me when my mind wandered, or I read/watched something and thought, “I can do that better”
What am I doing when I let my mind wander? Anything that requires zero focus. Things like taking a shower, falling asleep, walking at work. Generally, I try not to wander when I drive, but it happens on occasion. During these moments where my mind explores, I get bits of dialogue, plot points, or character traits. These little droppings of ideas get filed away in the back of my mind.
If one is interesting enough, I’ll play with it some more. See where it goes. Also, at this point, I write it down somewhere. Idea Journals or notebooks may seem cliché or tacky, but they work. Idea notebooks are also handy for idea recycling. More on that later in the post.
Another way I get ideas is by seeing/reading something else and thinking of ways to make it better. This mental path is not to be confused with the Fan Fiction genre. Fan Fiction follows the original plot or characters closely. My mental path, which, for a lack of a better word, could be called stealing, focuses on a single plot point or character quirk. Then I make it my own.
As Tyra Banks said on season 6 of America's Next Top Model, “Steal from the best and make it your own.” (Yes, I watched the show as a child. There was very little else on non-cable TV). The emphasis is, of course, making it your own. I go one step further with, make it your own until it is your own. It should be so different from the original idea that it becomes something new.
Once the idea is had and after I’ve played with it a bit, I push it further and see if it is strong enough for a story. Everyone has a different idea of how “strong” an idea needs to be. Me? I write novels; I need the strength of an idea to help carry at least a 200 page Word Doc. Someone writing a short story would not need this type of strength. I also start expanding the plot. Most of the time, I find that the idea lacks the strength to form a plot around. That’s okay. I just wrap the idea up and file it away for possible recycling.
Keeping Writing Green
It should be pretty clear what I mean when I say “recycle”. It’s taking an old idea or character that didn’t work out and reusing them in a new story. For me, this happens a lot. My main character of my self-published book “Jen” actually came from an earlier story. In that one she was one of three characters and she fought with magic.
Alas, that story lacked a middle and was eventually scrapped. But, when I decided to write a book for my friend and I needed a strong, female lead, I searched through my old stories and ideas until I found Jen. It took 2 years for the character to come out of storage, but I believe it was worth it.
There are metaphorical tons of ideas out there for stories. And no two ideas are the same. Big things start small. So too does writing. So keep track of all those wonderful nuggets of ideas. One might just be strong enough to start your next project with.