This post is about fantastic story ideas, not just any story idea. It is about finding the gems, and not settling for the duds. Tomorrow I will help you assess those ideas. Today we will talk about how and where to find them.
I have worked in the creative industries for over 30 years now, and I can tell a wannabe from a pro, mostly. In some cases, the origin of their story ideas hints at what type you’re dealing with.
Let’s look at three ways of acquiring ideas; in a next post I’ll show you how to quickly assess them on their validity and merit.
The shower lightbulb
This is one of the most common, but at the same time most dangerous happenings to the creative: You come up with this amazing story idea in an instant, and know it must be made.
Whether it hits you in the shower, in your dream or in the car; in that single moment, you are super inspired. You see and feel the movie, right there projected against your mental screen.
The experience won’t go away easily, and you may chase the story idea for a long time… Sometimes even years.
This is also how amateurs work (or don’t work).
I like to argue that if you can come up with story ideas just like that, without effort, there is a fair chance that you find more and better ideas if you consciously create the circumstances for this to happen, frequently.
Here is where we dive into the Ideas Cave.
The Ideas Cave
This is the place you go to brainstorm; your private, creative space where everything is possible. With minimal effort, you generate tons of rough story ideas, for later review. It’s about allowing everything, and not criticising anything.
I’d trust a cave idea a million times over its shower sibling. We love the shower idea, because it is given to us unexpectedly, and we didn’t have to pay with our time. But because we didn’t have to spend time or effort doesn’t necessarily make it better.
You go into the cave with a mission. You’re after a million story ideas, not just one. And you’re not just after great ideas; any idea will do. Because right now you won’t know whether these story ideas are any good. That’s going to be your next step.
Now, how to unleash your inner creative in the cave?
Each writer finds their own best way of generating ideas. In essence, this is similar to overcoming writer’s block. Some people start from character, story actions, or story events. Others just write stuff down, and see what happens.
In any case, when you think you’ve brainstormed enough, you’ve probably only just scratched the surface.
Over the years, I have found that those students who are working on projects consistently, are also the ones who have a regimen of brainstorming ideas frequently.
Why don’t you resolve to make time for this, every day.
Even if you sit down for only 15 minutes per day, that’s 90 hours over the year.
Perhaps you’re lucky enough that someone has given you a writing assignment. Or you’ve optioned that novel you read and loved so much.
You didn’t come up with the story idea, but you have the honour (or duty) of developing it into a successful script. You are taking the story off someone else’s hands, and you are making it yours.
If adaptation is your thing, perhaps you should make time every day to look for story ideas to adopt and adapt.
Looking at the high proportion of adapted screenplays that make it to the box office, this seems to be a great approach to look for your story treasures.
All that glitters is not gold, though.
Story Ideas That Suck
You wouldn’t be the first writer to find out, week, months, even years into development, that the treasure was a fake. The concept doesn’t work. The story idea is dead.
The key is to identify this as early as possible. Not during your brainstorming process, but soon after.
I can hear you ask “How can you tell what works and what doesn’t“?
The answer is: you don’t.
However, I know a very effective process to eliminate ideas that mostly likely won’t work, and improve the ones that are almost perfect.
This secret I will reveal to you in a next post.
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.