Mining for Ideas
I had a writer recently tell me they had a difficult time coming up with ideas for stories. They complained that they’d sit down at their PC and stare at the blank page on the screen and struggle to think of something interesting to write about. Keep in mind, they’re a fine writer and I’ve enjoyed his stories, but I was surprised by his confession.
I used to feel this way myself. I’d sit for long stretches of time wracking my brain to come up with interesting and plausible story ideas. I’d get so frustrated and felt like I was the only writer in existence that had this problem. But then, one day, I had an epiphany that changed the writing game for me.
What I realized was that ideas are everywhere. My problem was that I wasn’t recognizing them. Every day, everything I saw and read and heard and experienced offered plot points and characters for potential stories. I simply had to learn to actually see them and learn how to adapt them to fiction, specifically, my fiction. Since I write sci-fi, horror, and speculative fiction, my stories aren’t going to necessarily be based in reality. That’s okay, though.
You see, anything can be manipulated into fiction or into another genre. Take some of the Marvel Studios movies as examples. The movie, Captain America: Winter Soldier was basically a political thriller with superheroes. The first Ant Man movie was just a heist picture, with heroes. The first Thor movie was a Shakespearean drama. With heroes. The first Iron Man movie was about corporate espionage. All Marvel did was take some genre movies and insert super-powered people into them.
Once I came to this realization I found that I was almost overwhelmed by ideas. The trick (if you want to call it that) is to be able to put two different things together. Like, you see an interesting person in a restaurant. Maybe they’re dressed nicely, suit and tie, fedora, nice coat…yet they seem out of place. So you take that person as a character and maybe even the restaurant as a setting, but what do you do with it? Well, maybe this guy is a agent for an alien civilization who is on a reconnaissance mission on Earth and he’s meeting a human who he thinks is going to provide him with some U.S. military secrets. Or maybe he’s actually a demon who’s seeking souls and the manager of the restaurant is a likely candidate. Or maybe he’s on the run with information about a secret government research facility that’s actually turning people into killing machines.
Do you see what I mean? You can create all sorts of interesting story ideas based on one person you saw while eating dinner.
With that in mind, consider all the things you experience in the course of an average day. There are the people you see walking down the sidewalk, or sitting in the cars around you while you’re stopped at a traffic light. What about coworkers? Family members? People in the grocery store? Characters are all around you.
For the settings, well, that’s up to you and the genres you work in. Even then, you can still pull things from your everyday experiences and utilize them to create a story. Was there an argument between coworkers at the office? What about the thirty minutes you spent sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office? You know how that feels, the sick people around you, the smell of disinfectant…can you use that as a setting? What about things you see on the news or an online news site? There are major fires in California…there’s a setting. What can you do with it?
Do you see what I mean? There are ideas everywhere and you can mix and match characters and settings in all sorts of combinations to concoct a story. You just have to open your eyes and your mind, then let your imagination take over.
And there’s the gist – it all comes down to imagination, being able to see the world around you and finding ways to incorporate it into your fiction. It may take time for you to get the hang of it, but don’t get frustrated. Just relax, don’t overthink it, and before you know it you’ll see potential stories everywhere you look.
Give it a shot and let me know how it works for you.