The greatest books, to me anyway, succeeded because they had the greatest ideas, and that’s the seed that grows a story. All you have to do from there is plant it and water it and let it have sunlight, and you’ve got a story. Right?
That’s what I thought at first, which is partially true.
One of my favorite quotes is by Neil Gaiman, “This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”
Seriously, if you don’t have an idea that you are truly in love with, an idea that you want to be a story enough that you could become (minorly clinically) obsessed with, then this is how to get one. If you aren’t willing to put out however long it will take you to write your story, then you aren’t committed enough, but don’t worry, because that comes later. If you want it enough, you can get it. This, to me, is the best part of writing.
This is usually where my mind strikes out, where I have to actually come up with something to write about, but there are a few ways to come up with a good story.
I came up with the idea for my book, the one that is still in the editing stage, in the middle of class last year. I got it easy, I think, because it just came to me and I had it, but the other stories I’ve written? It takes some thought.
First of all, think about what kind of story you want to write about, whether it’s going to be horror, or fantasy, or a novel, or a short story. Maybe think of your favorite book, and what genre it’s in. Go to a bookshelf and pull out all of the books that you liked the best. What did these have in common, or were they even related at all?
People say to write what you know and I say screw that. Don’t write about what you already know inside and out, explore what you don’t know. Solve problems that you will never have. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and what their story might be.
What’s your favorite thing to do? It’s impossible to know everything about it, so write it out. You can learn a lot from what’s already inside your head.
But that’s just me, and maybe you might want to write about something that exists, that you’ve experienced. Tell people what you know, share your knowledge, your story. Write about something you’ve seen happen, or something that you’ve heard about.
That’s the thing, though. There are no limits to what you can do with a pencil and paper. You could come up with something that doesn’t even exist. Write about how it works, about why it is that way. Answer all the questions you could possibly have on this imaginary subject, then write about it.
In my original idea, I based the entire story around the setting, which is in a futuristic world. From that I wrote out the characters, their backstories, their futures and what they will accomplish, and what they will fail at. I came up with every possible question someone could have about this world and answered it. It’s completely from my imagination, but that’s where the best things come from, isn’t it?
Everything started with an idea: lightbulbs, television, microwaveable popcorn. All of the best things come from inside our brains.
My next short story, Holding My Breath, came to me in a dream. The story, since then, has evolved into something completely different, but the dream was the spark that set flame to the idea of Rusty and her adventure, which I will probably get to work on after I finish editing my novel.
Think about your wildest dream, and what it would be like to live there, whether it would be a pleasure or a curse to be in that story. How your main character would have to react, how they would survive.
Sometimes ideas can be developed with a phrase, or a name. The first book I ever tried to write started with a username that I’ve been using since I was in second grade, and somehow I transformed that name in my mind to be the fortress of an elven king, whose mission was to rule the people of a city. Ridiculous, right? I actually found my first drafts of it last night when I was going through some stuff, and some of the things I wrote in it was pretty ridiculous.
The second story I tried to write started with a name. For some reason, I immediately thought of this girl, Mary, who could see ghosts and had to figure out why they were following her. Yeah, I know, it doesn’t usually come that easy, and if it does, it might not last. It could have been a good idea, but I wasn’t into it enough to wait out however long it took me to write it. I was also in fourth grade, but whatever.
Looking for Lily actually began in class as well because I was given a prompt, to follow the hero’s journey archetype, which I guess I could write a chapter on sometime. But that’s a good point: if you don’t know where to start, and none of this has been helpful so far, look up a prompt. Most people refrain from trying this, because they want their story to be original, but who says a story can’t be original if you’re the one making it up?
When I say prompt, I don’t mean where you read a story and have to come up with an ending, but when there is a goal, a finish line to get to. For example, a prompt might be to write a story where the character will fail, but succeed at the same time, just in a different way. Another might be to write a story where the character’s life is turned upside down. Maybe another could be to write a story where something in the setting will make your character question everything they’ve ever known.
I would think that the best prompts are the cryptic ones, because you have to fill in the blanks, like the ones I just made up.
One thing that I do recommend, and this is just me thinking out loud here, is that you avoid cliches. A cliche is something that is used way too much, like “the butler did it”. For example, a vampire love story, which is definitely a worn out concept by now. Or like the wizard goes to school for wizards thing. If you are going to use a cliche, you should put a twist on it so it is different from everyone else’s.
Not that Twilight and Harry Potter aren’t great books, which they are. I don’t know the technical term for it, but I like to call these Gate Openers. Basically what I mean by that is that these books opened up a new concept that was written so well that everyone else wanted to read them again, but differently.
It’s kind of when you first read your favorite story, but when it ended, you wanted to have the whole experience again, but now you can’t because you know what happens at the end. So of course these new ideas opened the gates to others of its kind, and now, they are kind of getting old and aren’t as exciting as the originals.
And yes, that’s a challenge, if you are up to it, to make your idea so original and unheard of that it becomes a gate opener. Just a thought.
If you like history, or hate it, whichever I guess, then here’s another way to come up with an idea. I’m still in school, which means I have to sit through social studies five days a week, so this method has actually helped me quite a bit. You’ll find that our world seems to make some mistakes every now and then in the development of our countries, some that we’ve made multiple times, because that’s going to happen to everyone. But we’ve also gotten some great stuff done in the past. Both can be used in your idea, maybe even become a main part of your story.
And no, I’m not necessarily talking about historical fiction, but if that’s your boat, sail it. It could be like last year, in the middle of a test, when I was trying to remember what the difference was between a… I don’t even remember now, but I realized how the life of whoever it was became really similar to someone in my book, and how their ultimate goal was wealth and power. I happened to be missing this in my book, and it caught fire to the idea that this character was really after something else than what I was thinking.
That’s the kind of thing that will happen on a daily basis, or at least it did for me. Of course, I was taking a test, so I couldn’t just take out a notebook and start writing it down, but I didn’t want to forget it. By the end of the test I had fine print covering my entire arm up to just above my elbow, and of course my teacher thought I was cheating, but whatever.
It also happened in science class when we were talking about energy, and I got the idea to use solar panels to power this really big place in my book, which became important in the end, but I had a paper and pencil for that.
Still don’t have an idea, even after all of my ranting? It’s okay. Give it a few days, or ask a friend or family member if they have any ideas. Once it comes to you, however, don’t let it get away. Write it down, even if it’s stupid or ridiculous, because I bet it will turn into something you’re really interested, just by adding or taking out a few things, and making it special to you.
There’s really no possible way to tell someone how to come up with an idea. It’s impossible, because it isn’t something you can learn; it just happens, but I hope this chapter may have helped you.
Also, you really need to check out “How to Write a Book” on youtube by Kaleb Nation. Awesome video, and very short. I think it’s pretty awesome.