This new post is mainly a continuation of yesterday’s post, as promised, about where to find ideas and what you might do with them but also looks briefly at the problem of how to recognize a good idea when you have one. It also recommends some good writing books with exercises that will lead you to more good ideas.
Some more things to try:
Create Links between Disparate Things – This works because the brain is programmed to elicit meaning from whatever it meets. Research has shown that people who come up with innovative ideas are also good as forming associations between seemingly disparate things. You can be playful with this idea from ‘The Road to Somewhere: A Creative Writing Companion edited by Robert Graham, et al. Tear out pieces of text from newspapers, magazines and brochures, any old how in paragraphs and sentences chunks, with some words and phrases on their own. Throw them all onto a table, pick out some at random and rearrange them, trying to make connections between them.
Play Games – You more relaxed when you are playful, so games, (such as the one above) can lead to interesting ideas. Writing books cover a huge variety of these, as do the books I have listed below, so I won’t go into these for now. If you are especially interested in writing games, let me know and we will revisit this idea another time.
Use Tarot Cards – In here book ‘The Creative Writer’s Workshop (5th Edition), Cathy Birch recommends the use of tarot cards. She says these “represent powerful archetypal energies – the collective human experience underlying legend, myth and folklore.” She uses tarot spreads to “give insight” into character and situation. She also shows how astrology, the Chinese I Ching, runes, dice and dominoes can enhance writing and lead to stories. I have never tried any of these methods but they look intriguing and well worth a try.
Ask Questions – like, what if? Or, suppose that? What if the urgent sounds you heard through the wall last night was water dripping but a faint tapping? What if this picnic happened in a different time, or place? Note down as many possibilities that you can, to get past the most obvious. What if there was a man who completely understood women? Suppose he just pretended to? What might be the consequences? What kind of person would do this? Try to answer some of the questions you have posed. Then ask why? Use some of your own character traits for inside knowledge. What if you gave someone else this character trait; someone who wasn’t comfortable with it? And so on.
Capture Your Dreams – Note down what you remember in a stream of conscious way, without worrying about what you can’t remember clearly. Dreams can provide unique situations and, as they are often about your fears and these can be useful when building characters. Make the dream credible, however strange and ridiculous it may seem, by adding logical connections, action and consequence, concrete detail, further scenes. Ask how and why questions to find these. Can you give it a title, draw a plan? Can you feel the mood of the dream? Sometime residual feelings stay with us hours after we have forgotten the dream. I keep a dream journal and find them very useful for poems and flash fiction. If you record your dreams you may be surprised to find curious recurring patterns. I often dream that I am looking for something that I can’t find. Once it was a particular kind of book; another time it was a child, on board an ocean liner. What if I had found the book or the child, what then?
Daydreaming can be useful too, the way in which one thought leads to another, to a memory and another thought, perhaps to a wish or desire that can be harnessed to a character.
Cluster – this is a right brained method of finding ideas that is a cross between mind mapping and free writing but works better than either of those (only my opinion) and is a failsafe way of finding ideas. It is also a great way of generating material that keeps you going, and so, for that reason, I am going to describe how it works in detail in next weeks post
Use Writing Books with Helpful Exercises – There are a great many of these. Don’t be put off by those published in other English speaking countries. They have just as much to offer. I plan to review several writing books in my Writing Room page over the coming months. In the meantime here are:
Five Great Writing Books for Finding Ideas
The Five Minute Writer by Margret Geraghty – stimulates thought then provides a exercise leading to an idea in just five minutes a day. Stacks of useful information, tips, variations on exercises and a good aid for getting into a writing routine
The Creative Writer’s Workshop (5th Edition) by Cathy Birch – exercises geared towards finding your own voice, towards spontaneity, with some unusual approaches to explore your subconscious, games, right brained methods of recording information, ways into crafting a character or plot revamping old stories and much more.
Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway – This is quite a serious (and expensive) book designed to be used on University creative writing courses. Each chapter is followed by suggestions for discussion and writing assignments. Chapter one, The Writing Process, outlines a series of ways of finding good ideas and ends with some examples of types of ideas such as The Dilemma, the Incongruity or The Transplant.
The Writing Experiment: Strategies for Innovative Creative Writing by Hazel Smith – I found this a stunning book, chock full of challenging exercises with useful examples to stimulate new ideas and encourage experimental writing. It covers a variety of genres and is intended for writers of all levels.
Your Writing Coach: From Concept to Character, from Pitch to Publication by Jurgen Wolff – There is a great deal of information in this book and it’s quite wordy but the typeface is clear, there are plenty of headings and each chapter is summed up at the end with a set of key points. The exercises which follow each chapter are short and useful. There are also chapter bonus sections with links to a website for further information.
So, having finally got an idea and tossed it around for a while, how do you know if it’s got legs?
How will I know if my idea is good enough? What is a good idea?
Janet Burrroway in ‘Writing Fiction:A guide to narrative craft’’ maintains that “the trick is to identify what is interesting, unique, original in your experience which will surprise and attract the reader” It should also be something that reveals meaning, that matters to you and that can be developed in various useful ways.
That easy, then? Well, this is the ideal but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Over the coming weeks you will find ways that will help you to get closer to it.
Next Post: ‘Up Close and Personal’ – I thought it would be useful to use a real experience as the basis of a story but it doesn’t seem to be working. Why is that?