Getting Story Ideas - Writing Inside the Box

Discussion in 'Articles' started by Lamkin, Mar 5, 2015.

By Lamkin on Mar 5, 2015 at 1:52 PM
  1. Lamkin
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    Lamkin New Member

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    Getting Story Ideas - Writing Inside the Box

    Discussion in 'Articles' started by Lamkin, Mar 5, 2015.

    Getting story ideas – Thinking inside the box

    When designing a story to really grab a reader's attention, the phrases, “writing what you know” and “using your imagination” can sometimes be misleading and unhelpful. I find that they're often far more useful with guidance.

    If someone asked me to write a story right now, I would, naturally, be imaginative while also relying on what I know to inform the text. Unfortunately, with such free reign, my idea would be in danger of bending towards an idea that already exists.

    Who else has been reluctant to test read the epic historical fantasy novel with multiple narratives, a rich back-story, bloody violence and steamy/twisted romance plots from a talented fellow writer who just happened to be a massive Game Of Thrones fan? Who else was reluctant to read the abstract prose from a friend who fancied themselves as the next William S Burroughs? These writer's imaginations were filled with the imaginations of other writers. What they knew was other people's work.

    I probably sound quite cynical here but I'm mostly talking from bitter personal experience. You may be able to fill your story with rich characters and have a beautiful writing style but you may still stumble at the final hurdle: the psychic, cynical part of every reader's brain that pounds: “I can see right through this. If I know better than the author, why should I care?”

    There is a trick to bypass this part of the reader's brain. Here's a method that I find helpful:

    Make your idea more original by giving it some strict guidelines.

    Let me illustrate an example. I've always wanted to write a cyberpunk story. I've got the genre (the floor). Now I just need a roof. I don't have much time right now so I'll think of something at random.

    Okay... the main character has to be a pig.

    I've got some guidelines. Ridiculous guidelines, sure, but they're there. Now, I have to think: what is the best possible idea I can think of that involves cyber-punk and pigs? Do I make it a comedy? Should it be a children's book style parody of Blade Runner where the characters are talking farm yard animals (with the potential title: “Do Electric Pigs dream of Android Sheep?”?) Should I make it a dark reflection of our own world; perhaps a look at the theoretical implications of future technology impacting the meat and farming industry? Should it be from the Pig's point of view? What kind of language would a Pig use? How will I balance the tone? Already my idea is starting to germinate. You're creativity can sometimes create better ideas inside a set of specific guidelines over being given total freedom.

    (Another exercise that I like to do is to walk into the section of a DVD store, pick a random DVD off the shelf, look at the cover, the title of the film and the tag line. I imagine what the story of the film would be based only on those scraps of information and then I read the back. If you like the idea you come up with and it turns out to be completely different from the film's actual plot, you have one idea totally free of charge!)
     

Comments

Discussion in 'Articles' started by Lamkin, Mar 5, 2015.

    1. Crick
      Crick
      I love the DVD idea. Even if I don't find it helpful, I bet it would be a lot of fun.
    2. Bryan Romer
      Bryan Romer
      I'm not sure what your advice is.

      Your pig example is just brainstorming or a variation on mind mapping.

      If you are saying to use what you see around you as inspiration then isn't that what all good authors do?
    3. Lamkin
      Lamkin
      Appologise, I guess I was being a bit vague ^^;

      Simply put; what I was trying to illustrate how having limitations/rules/guilines for your ideas can sometimes produce something more original than an idea built from scratch. Guidlines create a space in which you can be as creative as possible. Sometimes, these guidlines can be set by other people (i.e. the DVD idea/ short story competition rules). Other times, you have to set these guidlines yourself like as with the pig example (a stuffed pig might have been the first thing I looked up and saw in my room). Hope that's clearer :)
      Clover likes this.
    4. Lamkin
    5. Selbbin
      Selbbin
      I agree with the first part, which is one of the reasons I avoid reading much. However the rest is a bit on the nose. If you want to write a particular type of story then you've already been influenced. It's too late. And how is taking an idea off a DVD slick original? I mean.... what?

      In my opinion you have it the wrong way around. I agree with rules, but these rules are silly. You start with the furniture and then try and figure out what type of house to put it in. That's dumb.

      Call me a cynic, but why does the world need yet another 'whatever' story, built to fulfill an expectation? I prefer it if the writer has something to say, or has an adventure so amazing to share that they just can't hold back. They can't not write, as opposed to finding something to write. If you need help to find a story idea then I wish you good luck in writing a good story, because ideas are the easy part. If you need help coming up with an idea in order to write, you probably shouldn't be writing. And I mean that sincerely. I don't write unless I have an idea. I don't go looking. I wait. But then again, I find writing a chore.
    6. ladybird
      ladybird
      I'm not sure 'writing inside' the box is that an original title. When I'm looking for ideas I listen to the new's stories or eavesdrop at our local cafe; truth is usually stranger than fiction! I do understand what you mean, though. :)
      Last edited: Apr 22, 2015
    7. Mocheo Timo
      Mocheo Timo
      I liked your illustration on how to set guidelines, it proves your point just right.
      When I read the cyber-punk pig example, a million thoughts came into my head.
      None of them were orderly enough, and if they were, there is a large chance it might have been an unoriginal idea.
      Setting the guidelines like you showed, would help me understand the kind of story I am really looking for.
      I don't think the DVD suggestion is very useful though. I mean, it would not work for me.
      In my case, I need to be influenced by certain stories first, then I think: "What would I do if the story was my own?"
      That makes plagiarism much more likely, but if I set my own guidelines, like you did in your example, the result will be just fine.
    8. Thisgirlsonfire
      Thisgirlsonfire
      It all depends on the style of writing. He's into fiction writing. If I seen a picture of a depressed looking girl I can imagine what she's thinking or think of times I felt the same way and come up with something to write about. I think we should look for inspiration everywhere. Try something new. The more exposure we get the better writers we become. It was a useful article, I liked it.
    9. Clover
      Clover
      Needing to write is a great start, but for me I can have problems thinking of ideas. Then when I start writing, the story evolves and becomes exciting, and that's when ideas began to spark. It's a slower process, but with the same results.
      ladybird likes this.
    10. OurJud
      OurJud
      Brilliant little article, and in itself written beautifully!
    11. Louis D. Thorpe
      Louis D. Thorpe
      The DVD idea also works with book titles.
    12. Illandrius
      Illandrius
      Honestly, I am a new writer, really new, but i didn't know that I wanted to write until i got my idea for a story that came while I was reading another book. I have spent time trying to make my story unique, however i started thinking, the majority of stories are the same ideas replayed over and over again. Love, hate, violence, crime all of these are items in a story are told and retold with different characters and a different place. Yes the situation may change a bit but its the same concept.

      I am currently writing a fantasy novel, I have read fantasy novels before like Lord of the Rings, does that mean that's where my story came from, absolutely not. I am capable of creating unique ideas even after reading a fantasy novel. Yes i have some elements from a lot of fantasy novels through out my book, but my idea is unique.
    13. Augusto
      Augusto
      I completely agree with you, Illandrius.

      Also, I would add that even if one manages to create something incredibly original, people can always over simplify it and claim it is a copy of something else.

      For example, I wrote a story about a robot and I put a lot of work into it. I took many elements from different places and added a lot of my own. I was delighted with the story. Then someone said "I Robot" and someone else said "Mega-Man" and a third person said "Bicentennial Man" and I was like "WTF?"


      So, yes. If you write about a robot you're copying someone. If you don't, you're still copying someone. Well, fuck it...! The overall result will always be an original story (as long as you're not actually a shameless thief) and individual little pieces can always be related to something you may or may have not used as inspiration.
    14. Sentient94
      Sentient94
      How many crime novels have you read though that have pretty much the same plot?
      If it ain't broke, don't fix it - there are people out there that will read the same thing over and over because it's familiar in so many ways and that's just what they enjoy.

      I've always felt like if everybody is trying to be original and new we never get anything we liked in the first place.
    15. shlunka
      shlunka
      I just mix characters and settings together arbitrarily for titles, then write a novel from there. Examples: "Buck and Carl vs The Onion of Scorn" or "The Parrots of Mi6", "A scorned poultry". It'd be far easier to sell a generic crime-fiction, but I'd never forgive myself for becoming a recorder rather than a writer.
    16. Justin Rocket 2
      Justin Rocket 2
      I totally disagree. I can write a damned good scene. I suck at ideas.
    17. Selbbin
      Selbbin
      You also need ideas for a scene, from the basic elements to what happens.
    18. Justin Rocket 2
      Justin Rocket 2
      If I know (1.) what the characters in the scene want and why, (2.) what's stopping them, (3.) how that fits into the overall plot, and (4.) some very general/vague idea of the business going on in the scene (i.e. shopping for Christmas, a high speed chase through town, caring for an abused child, whatever), then coming up with scene ideas is easy. I expect those four things to come from the overall plot.
    19. Selbbin
      Selbbin
      Well, good luck with that.
    20. AndrewA
      AndrewA
      You can not put rules or restrictions on inspiration and imagination.
    21. agorman00
      agorman00
      Wow, I'm for sure using the DVD store idea. Thank you for that.

      I disagree. I think restricting what you put into your story is helpful. It keeps the unrelated crap out. If I just let my imagination go wild, I'd come up with random stuff that doesn't make sense together or relate. But if I restricted it to Dystopia or SciFi, suddenly ideas start making sense.

      It's good to let things loose, but if you want coherent ideas and things to make sense, you have to keep them in-bounds, so to speak.
    22. Sack-a-Doo!
      Sack-a-Doo!
      Without rules and restrictions, there would be no such thing as genre fiction. And the tighter you build the box, the more imaginative a writer has to be to avoid rewriting the tried-n-true.

      Rules and restriction are the mother (and father, since they are two) of imagination.
      Last edited: May 17, 2016
      Wayjor Frippery likes this.
    23. Raven484
      Raven484
      I've got some guidelines. Ridiculous guidelines, sure, but they're there. Now, I have to think: what is the best possible idea I can think of that involves cyber-punk and pigs? Do I make it a comedy? Should it be a children's book style parody of Blade Runner where the characters are talking farm yard animals (with the potential title: “Do Electric Pigs dream of Android Sheep?”?) Should I make it a dark reflection of our own world; perhaps a look at the theoretical implications of future technology impacting the meat and farming industry? Should it be from the Pig's point of view? What kind of language would a Pig use? How will I balance the tone? Already my idea is starting to germinate. You're creativity can sometimes create better ideas inside a set of specific guidelines over being given total freedom.

      In the above paragraph I can see where you are going to be a little creative. But in the colored text above are you not doing what your article tells us not to do? There have been comedies with pigs. A blade runner parody is still blade runner.
      If you made it something like: The world elects a young 30 year old as its next pope. After 4 years as pope he decides to step down as pope and become a porn star. He then becomes rich and famous and becomes a major drug user. He cleans up his act but then gets diagnosed with AIDS because with his beliefs, he never uses condoms during his sex scene. Before he dies, he goes on a killing spree, murdering porn actresses that might have given him the disease.
      Point being, if you are going to make an article giving advice about ideas, in the example section come up with an original idea and not something that has been done before.
      Making an idea more original is still using someone else's original idea. I think if you look at my example you could probably find that it was done before also.
      Last edited: May 24, 2016
    24. Sack-a-Doo!
      Sack-a-Doo!
      According to some, everything's been done before.

      But we live in hope, eh?

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