Thursday, October 01, 2015

It All Starts With an Idea

6:00 AM Posted by Tara No comments
So you're going to participate in Nanowrimo. Fantastic! Now comes the question that has plagued writers since the dawn of our age:

What are you going to write about?

Ideas are ornery creatures. They have a tendency to attack at the most inopportune times: when you're trying to sleep, in the middle of a math exam, or—worst of all—when you're already knee-deep into writing another novel. But when you starting looking for ideas, they're nowhere to be found. If you want to write a novel this November but don't know what to write, here are a few ways to find inspiration.

Adopt a plot.

No matter what you need to help you write your novel, you'll find it on the forums—even your plot itself! Each year, hundreds of threads are created with thousands of adoptable ideas in the Adoption Society. The Adopt a Plot thread was the first of its kind, and in the last few years has branched out to several genre-specific threads: fantasy, sci-fi, romance, horror, and dystopia. You'll find ideas ranging from short and simple to long and detailed, but you're welcome to tweak any offered plot to your liking. Take a couple of hours to browse through the adoptable plots, and write down any and all that pique your interest—if you don't use them this year, they might come in handy somewhere down the line.

What if?

Possibly the two most powerful words in a writer's arsenal, "What if?" fires up your imagination by presenting a simple premise with a twist that you might take in a hundred different directions.

For example: what if a young woman discovered she was pregnant... even though she was a virgin? If you want to write sci-fi, she could have been implanted with alien spawn. In fantasy, the baby's origins could be owed to prophecy and magic. If you're writing suspense, you could have the woman pursue the mystery of her forgotten assault. Or you might write a comedy about the shenanigans that befall the woman, an atheist, as she tries to convince the world that her son is not the second coming of Jesus. By trying to answer one simple question, you can come up with a number of interesting ideas for a story.

A great way to start is to re-imagine a real event. What if your cafeteria's hamburgers taste so awful because the lunch lady is trying to poison the entire school? What if your neighbor's party is actually a cult gathering, and you were only invited to be their ritual sacrifice? What if all those "wrong numbers" are trying to contact the future you, but keep calling too early in your timeline? Even the most mundane things can be turned into a story idea!

Put a new spin on and old story.

"But wait," you might be saying. "Isn't that just stealing someone else's idea?" Not if you make it your own. You can't simply change a couple of names and hope no one notices that your story is an exact replica of another. That wouldn't be any fun at all (and is kind of illegal).

Instead, boil a story you enjoy down to its essence, and add a twist to it. Romeo and Juliet, for example, is at its core a story of forbidden love between two people on opposite sites of a conflict. That could mean anything. Maybe they're lawyers working opposite sides of a high-profile murder case, or soldiers in an interplanetary war, or an assassin and his target. You can implement other aspects of the Romeo and Juliet story, too, without your story being a carbon copy; perhaps the assassin tries to fake the death of his target so they can escape together, but it goes wrong and she dies anyway.

Telling a classic story from a different point of view is another option that's growing in popularity. For example, Maleficent shows us there's more to her story than pure villainy, and in my Nanowrimo novel, The Broken Brick Road, I explore how Glinda was the mastermind behind all of Dorothy's troubles in Oz. Choose a lesser character in one of your favorite stories and tell the story from their perspective for a fresh twist on an old plot.

A dream is a plot your heart makes.

I recently dreamed that an apocalyptic event incited the government to segregate men and women in individual survival camps; my husband and I were torn apart, and, confined to my camp, I couldn't know whether or not he had survived, until we managed to make contact over an illegal Internet connection. Though I was deeply rattled when I woke up, I was also excited to have had such a comprehensive—not to mention interesting—dream. It had all the basic elements of a plot: a backdrop (post-apocalyptic dystopia), an antagonistic force (the government), a conflict (being separated from my husband), and a goal (to reunite with him).

Your subconscious is a great place to mine for ideas. Even if your dreams don't resemble a plot quite so succinctly—or are, as dreams tend to be, completely illogical—they can still provide inspiration for conflicts, characters, and settings. Keep a notebook and pen by your bed and write down everything you can remember about your dreams as soon as you wake up from them—even in the middle of the night. Not every one will make good plot fodder, but once in awhile, you'll dig up pure gold.

Writing prompts. Writing prompts everywhere.

Google "writing prompts," or search "writing prompts" on the social media platform of your choice (Pinterest is excellent for this). It's just that easy!


You should now be well equipped to capture and tame a wild idea of your very own (but never, ever feed it after midnight). So, what happens next? Do you sit on your idea until November 1, or spend October expanding it into an outline? Next week, we'll discuss the great debate of Wrimos everywhere: pantsing versus planning!

What's your most tried-and-true way to come up with ideas? Leave a comment and let me know!


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