“Where do you get all your ideas?” some people ask of writers as if there is some secret trick of the trade. That’s like saying to an actor, “I don’t know how you remember all those lines!” There is no trick. It’s just what happens. Writers get ideas. But that’s not to say anything after the getting of an idea is easy.
To be honest, I don’t think of an idea for a story every five minutes. I probably don’t even think of an idea for a story once a week. Even less frequently I will land upon an actually good idea for a story.
What I do think of very regularly, perhaps 10 times a day, are “idea-ettes”. They are not complete, they are not fully formed, they are actually bordering on useless unless I really pursue them with vigour. They are little thought bubbles containing the twittering of an idea. It could be an item of news on the radio, a visualisation, an image, a memory, a conversation, an observation, a piece of fluff. It’s as if my mind is on the hunt for demonstrations of strong emotions, human behaviour (good and bad), quirky/debatable responses to life, and moral conundrums.
A twitter is not an idea. An idea for a story is not a story. Here’s a quick checklist of things to do when twitters or full-blown ideas for story come knocking on the inside of your skull.
- write it down quick. More than this, write down all you are thinking about it.
- pick out the emotions, the big feelings that the idea twitter is communicating. Not just the emotions of the idea, but the emotions it brings up in you.
- most importantly, search for conflict. write down any conflicting emotions or opinions connected to the idea, consider who would disagree with you and why.
That last one there, number 3. It’s critical. Story thrives on conflict. Finding the conflicts (challenges, warring emotions, differences of opinion, duality) within an idea is the key to finding the story.