From Writers in the Storm:
Inspiration is a fickle beast. She strikes at inopportune times (3 AM, anyone?) then disappears for months on end. She doesn’t call, she doesn’t write. Or maybe she treats you differently, pouring on so many ideas that you can’t tell the golden nuggets from the stinky ones.
Finding and prioritizing story options can be a frustrating process, but it’s easier if you approach it from the right angle. Here are a few possible starting points.
Start with Genre
We know that emotions are transferrable, from author to page to reader, so writing something that gets you excited pays off in dividends.
- What do you like to write?
- What do you like to read?
- Which kinds of stories are you passionate about?
Do you like fantasy? Which elements? Think dragons, portals, evil wizards, shapeshifters—then consider how those elements might be reimagined.
Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series gave us a whole new take on dragons, turning them from marauding villains into loving creatures that impress upon humans at birth and use their fiery powers for good.
Then, twenty years after the first book was published, she released the dragons’ origin story and how humans first came to Pern. While the previous books were straight fantasy, this one was also science fiction, showing the settlers traveling to the new world and using their technology to establish communities and bioengineer full-blown dragons from foot-long fire lizards. Dragonsdawn is an innovative blending of the sci-fi and fantasy genres in a way that was new and entirely fresh.
So think of the genre you want to write, then tweak the standard conventions to create something new. Or blend your preferred genre with another one and see what ideas come to mind.
Start with Character
Everyone’s process is different. It’s one of the things I love about the writing community—the vast diversity of thought and method that can birth uncountable stories. Maybe you’re the kind of writer who’s drawn to characters. They come to you fully-formed, or you have an inkling of who they are before you have any idea what the story’s about. If this is you, start by getting to know that character.
- If you have a good idea of their personality, dig into their backstory to see what could have happened to make them the way they are.
- If you already know about their troubled past, use that to figure out which positive attributes, flaws, fears, quirks, and habits they now exhibit.
- What inner need do they have (and why)?
- Which story goal might they embrace as a way of filling that void?
Characters drive the story, so they can be a good jumping-off point for finding your next big idea.
. . . .
Start with a Story Seed
But maybe it’s not characters that rev your engine. When I’m exploring a new project, I have no idea about the people involved. Instead, my stories typically start with a What if? question.
- What if a man abandoned his family to strike it rich in the California Gold Rush—what would happen to them?
- What if all the children under the age of 16 abruptly disappeared?
- What if someone’s sneezes transported them to weird new worlds?
Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm