Where do you get them? How often? And how do you know when you’ve happened upon a real gem?
What makes an idea great, anyway?
You learn the answer to this question by playing around with the idea. By coming up with a setting and characters and then putting them into the situation you’ve cooked up. Like a new recipe, you’ll have to keep tweaking your idea until it works, until all of the ingredients work together to create something you feel passionate about writing.
If it’s not something you want to explore, and deeply at that, it’s probably best if you file it away for later. You can always go back to it at another time. Maybe you’ll get some creative spark from it when you’re ready. It won’t excite your readers if it doesn’t excite you. And let’s face it, how many times have we all had to sit and listen to boring speeches given by people who were full of head knowledge but had no passion for their subject? It’s the same with stories. If you’re not excited about your characters and their story, your readers will sense that, and they’ll stop reading before they ever get to the bottom of page one.
So you need to be excited about your idea, and build upon it. You might start with a mood, such as a dark, rainy day. How do you turn that into a story?
First of all, you populate it. You create an antagonist and give him or her some kind of life. What kind of occupation does he have? Does she have a husband and children? What was his childhood like? What is her worst fear, and why is she so afraid of it? What makes him angry enough to kill? Keep asking yourself questions about his or her life. The answers will help you understand how he or she reacts to certain situations in your story.
Then you want to come up with the current problem, the inciting incident, the thing that changes your hero’s life. Does she run into a long lost love? Has he just lost his job? Maybe a mad scientist has discovered a way to flood the earth, and he wants to blackmail its governments for his own gain.
Once you create your protagonist (yes, a villainous character can be your protagonist), you need to create his or her opponent, or antagonist. Think about what your protagonist wants most, and when you come up with two or three ideas you really like, think about who might want to keep them from attaining those goals. Once you have several of these possible antagonists, choose the one that shows the most promise, the one that most excites you. Does her best friend love her? Is he jealous of her old lover, and will he stop at nothing to get rid of her old flame? Will the jobless man’s wife leave him because he can no longer support her? Or will she get a job of her own and leave him to stay home with the children–a Mr. Mom, so to speak? Will an FBI agent on the verge of quitting discover the mad scientist’s plans and find a new reason to continue to serve and protect the American people? Or does he have a history with the scientist and want to assassinate him for completely different reasons, thus using the man’s plans as justification to get rid of him?
And there are many other possibilities. You are only limited by your imagination. Don’t dismiss any idea as too crazy or too stupid or too impossible, at least not until you gather all your ideas and start weeding through them. In the brainstorming stage, you don’t want to discount any ideas that show some kind of promise.
Look everywhere for ideas. The news, magazine articles, real life. You might get the seed of an idea from one place, then get ideas from other sources to work in with it. Combine ideas until you hit upon the story you want to write, then flesh it out. Create your world, populate it, and have fun doing it. Fun is important! Passion is vital.
And if the passion wanes, don’t throw it away or send it to the recycle bin. File it away for later. There might be elements—characters or settings or situations, maybe even just a few snappy lines of dialog—that you’ll want to use somewhere else later. If boredom with your story overtakes you, remember that it’s a natural part of the process. Not all stories keep us excited all the time. If you can’t seem to revive your fire right now, file it away and move on to something else that sparks your interest.
Where do you get your story ideas? How do you go about creating the basic story idea, setting, and characters? Do you start with a mood? A character? A question?