Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Get Your Think On: Idea Generation

Today’s discussion will probably be of great service to those currently stalled in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). You may be having the easiest time just letting your fingers carry you away once you have an idea, but once the mental fuel runs low, there’s little for those fingers to do on their own. I’m not talking about writer’s block here, which is a subtly different problem (of which I personally can’t define the differences between at the moment, but trust me, they’re there). Thus, today’s post will focus upon how to generate ideas when you seem to be hitting a wall or just can’t figure out what to write about period.

Now, generating ideas can be a somewhat difficult business, but once one is generated they soon start to roll out, a self-perpetuating mental process. It’s the act of getting this process started that proves to be truly problematic during the brainstorming phase of a writing project, or when your story has hit a dead end and you’ve returned to the drawing board. Our own Lyla P. wrote a wonderful blog recently on writing what you know (or don’t know), and I suggest you check it out here. I’m going to be focusing more upon the process associated with this writing of what you do/n’t know and provide it to you in a list format of things I often run through during the planning process.


1.      Harvest Your History: We’ve all had moments in our lives that created a strong emotional stirring within us. This could be the birth of your first child, your first breakup, a divorce, failing out of high school, winning a pie-eating contest, you name it. These experiences resonated with you, so they have the possibility of resonating with someone else as well.
      I’m not suggesting you just spew out your memories of what happened at an emotionally charged time in your life and call it art. That would be more cathartic diary entry, or worse, a Mary Sue tale, than literature. Instead, harvest those memories, cannibalize them for their emotions or events. Change your role in the story: If someone you were in love with broke up with you, place yourself in their position and work out what you would have done the same or differently. Or, better yet, create entirely new characters and place them in the same starting situation and see how they would react. These events don’t have to all be bad either: imagine yourself as one of your parents on your wedding day, get into their head and poke around in their possible feelings. The goal here is to pick up on something that you’re attached to and make it different enough that you’re not just rehashing reality.
2.      Look Around You: Bouncing off of #1, this suggestion brings us back to the present. Look around you and pick someone you can see right now, or if you’re at home by yourself reading this, think of someone you know. Now go through a day in the life of the person you chose. Feel them out, get under their skin and imagine all of the thoughts that go on inside their head and then place them in your story.
3.      Found Material: This is my favorite one. Go to a website that specializes in posting found or anonymous material. Whether that site is PostSecret, Found Magazine, or any other number of similar websites, these sites have a wealth of story just waiting in the background for someone to run with. Pick out one or two pieces and turn them into a story. Either place the object in the story, create a character with similar thoughts or feelings, or add in the event that is alluded to. Take this photo for example:
Photo from Found Magazine
      The photo is nearly destroyed, an act at odds with the smiling girl in the photo. Thus the picture gains a somewhat sinister edge to it and you can delve into a family drama about to unfold. Or perhaps, the stuffed tarantula in the lower left-hand corner caught your eye and you’re curious what that’s about and decide to add that little oddity into a story you eventually come up with.

Stories are all around us, we only need to open our eyes to the various things around us and channel them into a story.

-Zach U.

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