Generating Compelling Ideas (or at least trying)

Hey friends, some more awesome news! PodCastle won an award! (For any new readers, PodCastle is the magazine in which I am an Associate Editor at.) You can see a picture of the trophy below, which is for “Best Fiction Podcast” presented by the 2017 Academy of PodCasters Awards.

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Just in case you are interested, we open back up to submissions in October and are looking for pretty much any fantasy up to 6,000 words. Head over here to check out our submission guidelines. Don’t forget we pay $0.06/word for previously unpublished work.

Other than the award, school started up (my full-time job is teaching) so it has been pretty hectic. Also, next weekend I’ll be in Atlanta with a bunch of people from the Escape Artist family for DragonCon, so if anyone else is going feel to meet up let me know. Anyways, it is probably time that we delve into ideas.

Generating Compelling Ideas (or at least trying)

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Creativity is a virus. It duplicates and grows until it consumes my entire life. I can’t speak for every writer, but my insomniatic mind has spun for hours playing out possible scenes for projects that I am working. The heart of creativity lies in creating and to create, most people start with an idea.

That said, it can be pretty damn hard trying to figure out if an idea is worth its weight in pixels.

Like all good writing advice, this isn’t meant as a rule. In fact, it isn’t even really intended as advice. It is more of my personal account on how I generate and evaluate ideas. Like always, figure out what works for you. If something catches your eye, try it. If you hate this entire post, feel free to reblog and tell everyone why I am a terrible writer. (I’ll take whatever signal boosts I can get.)

Before this list kicks off, I should say that ideas are nothing if you don’t have the craft to back it up. A poor writer will take any idea, even an awesome one, and ruin it. As Jim Butcher proved with his NY Times bestselling series Codex Alera, even completely random, awful ideas can be turned into something exciting if the writer has the chops to back it up. (In this case, Butcher was challenged to write a story that combined Pokemon and The Lost Roman Legion.)

Real World Inspiration

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The easiest way that I have found to generate an idea is to take an event that has actually happened and adapt it into a story. This doesn’t mean I don’t embellish (and since I write SFF I often translate into those genres) but it helps me skip large portions of the “how would some react in this situation,” since I already know what has happened.

I don’t simply write stories about driving to work, though as I said above, a skilled writer could make that thrilling. I find the stories that embodied a powerful emotion in myself or others. In fact, I steal many ideas from events that have occurred in other people’s lives. I alter them a bit and never use names, but I understand that other people have a wealth of experience that far outstrips my own.

Other Writers

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This one seems pretty simple and is common advice. IF you are going to write in a genre, it is beneficial to read that genre. Aside from giving ideas on what has been overdone so you don’t do it, I have often found myself inspired and decided to write scenes in similar fashions because of reading it another book or short story.

I am not saying that I am plagiarizing other writers, but rather understanding how they influence me. Scott Lynch writes books that often deal with swashbuckling rogues and this setting has inspired to include more ships in some of my own work.

Combining Ideas

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Often I don’t just take a single idea and run with it. I usually try to pack two or three big ideas into one concept. An example of this is I wanted to write a fantasy book that focused on the medieval equivalent of a beat cop. This alone is a combination of two ideas. I took it a bit further, created a swashbuckling setting inspired from Scott Lynch, and added in a magic system that drives people insane like in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. 

Brainstorming Conflict

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One of my favorite ways to come up with scene ideas is to figure out what would be the worst possible thing to happen in a situation and run with it. I find that conflict often breeds conflict much in the same way that creativity does.

Sometimes these ideas put my characters into a such a corner that they cannot escape, so  I scrape them. I don’t just throw them away though, Instead, I save them for later especially if I found the conflict extremely compelling.

Placing Motivations in Conflict

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This is similar to the last point, but instead of looking for the worst-case scenario, I try to find ways that my protagonist has two desires that directly conflict with each other. Often these stories are all about convincing the reader that each side is equally viable and equally disastrous, then having the character make an unexpected choice.

First Lines

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I know this seems a bit odd, but I love writing scenes using a “first line” prompt. I find that a good first line can often be the grease that gets the entire scene rolling for me. I do this more for short stories rather than novel scenes, but they are a fun way to get some words in.

Thanks for reading, friends! Don’t forget to mark PodCastle submission window, and if you are not currently following this blog, I’d love for you to hit the button. I hope you have a great week, and don’t forget to stop back in next Monday for a post on my adventures at DragonCon!

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