Everyone has ideas, not just writers. Image courtesy Alan Cleaver (Flickr)

How to Have Ideas

“How do you come up with your ideas?” If there’s one question that every writer gets asked, it’s that one. And I find it rather flattering, because it suggests you’ve performed a feat that others wish to emulate. But here’s a dirty little secret: everyone has story ideas, all the time.

I’ve heard a lot of writers saying their ideas come from inspiration or a muse or some other external force. Ideas can’t be coaxed, they say, and not everyone has the ability to have good ideas. That’s a load of manure.

Ideas come from your brain. You don’t have to sit at a special writing altar and pray to divine forces. You just have to stimulate your mind. Doesn’t matter what with. Read the back of the cereal box, play a game, doodle on the back of your hand. And when you have an idea, you write it down. Doesn’t matter how good it is. Making a bad idea good and a good idea great comes later.

And the ideas themselves? Perhaps you think you don’t have them in the first place. But if you’ve ever finished any of these sentences, you’ve had ideas:

I wish the creator(s) of (a book/film/TV show) had/hadn’t…

Wouldn’t it be cool if…?

What if…?

I wonder what it’s like to…?

They should totally…

Boom. You just had some story ideas.

This isn’t a glib answer. This really is how the process starts. Using The Fey Man as an example, I would have answered as follows:

I wish Tolkien had included fairies in Lord of the Rings.

Wouldn’t it be cool if dragons could remember the future?

What if the differences between elfs, dwarfs and men are a product of magically-driven evolution?

I wonder what it’s like to spend seven years as a captive, but be released into a world where a hundred years had passed?

But you’ll have noticed by now that these ideas don’t equal a novel, or even a short story. You’re absolutely right. one idea doesn’t make a novel. These initial ideas need development. Sometimes said development will change, sideline, or even usurp the original idea. But that’s all part of the process.

I was going to use The Fey Man as an example, but I think it’d be more fun with some audience participation. So please leave a comment completing those sentences. I’ll pick one comment, and run through how those ideas could be developed into a story. So go as nuts as you like! The wackier the answers, the more fun (and the greater the challenge) it will be!

Talking rot or making sense? I'd like to hear your two cents!