Idea Today, Novel Tomorrow

Celeste Davidson
Transform your writing, one email at a time
Try This - Apr 13, 2022

Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen. ― John Steinbeck

A story of a few thousand words—or fifty thousand—begins with a single idea. But, sometimes, that idea can be elusive.
I've discussed the value of completing a short story prior to attempting a novel before. Today, I’ll show you how to develop a concept worthy of both.
For many writers, starting is the toughest part. Luckily, the brain is not a vacuum: if you’re a living, breathing person in this world, you have some nebulous—and novel—notions floating around in your head. Even better, if you've taken my #1 writing advice to “chase inspiration with a club” (in the words of Jack London), you’ve been on the lookout for ideas already. You just might not be aware of their worth, and potential, quite yet.
Now’s the time to break out that idea notebook, or start one. (Will.Power is the perfect place to cache your casual observations and occasional epiphanies, by the way.) Not convinced? Roald Dahl was an avid keeper of thought books. He once scribbled a sentence about a giant who captured dreams in bottles and it wasn’t until several years later that he returned to the idea. That story would become The BFG.
Now, notebook in hand, let’s dive into ways to generate story ideas, covering a general rule of thumb first and then moving on to specific techniques. They don’t call it a brainstorm for nothing!
Story brainstorming: no holds barred

When brainstorming encourage wild and crazy ideas. Nonsense often leads to ideas that make perfect sense. ― Sam Harrison

During a brainstorm, the sky isn’t the limit. Neither is the edge of the universe. Nothing is! There truly are no limits to your creativity, so don’t sabotage yourself with self-doubt or internal judgements. As Shakespeare's Hamlet says, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Instead, give your inchoate ideas a chance to emerge.
In its earliest form, an idea isn’t a full understanding of a beginning, middle and end, or a cast of characters. Oftentimes, it’s only one element of your story, maybe two. That's why the Bardsy Method breaks storytelling down into two steps: develop and assemble. First develop that wisp of an idea. Don't get bogged down in the whole narrative process. Your thought could be as basic as an image or a scent. Then, if an ideational seed sparks even a sliver of excitement within you, water it and see what grows.
When it comes to brainstorming, I argue better too much than too little. Albert Einstein even went so far as to declare, “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” Embrace absurdity! It’s easier, and more fun, to rein in an outlandish concept than to add some interest to an utterly pedestrian one.
Four brainstorming techniques to get those creative juices flowing
1. Play a game of word association.
This is a surefire way to loosen up, stop overthinking and let your creativity fly. The first step is to pick a word or short phrase. It could be as simple as an object, like an umbrella, or as broad as a theme, such as war or peace.
Once you’ve picked your word or phrase, write everything that crosses your mind. Don’t filter yourself or question how one thought relates to another; just aim to record as many associations as possible. After a few minutes, or when you feel tapped out, review your list. Did you end up somewhere unexpected, like a game of telephone? Did your brain make interesting connections you can further explore?
If nothing is jumping out at you, try another round of word association with a totally different word. Then, pair words from the separate exercises, drawing connections that you might not have considered otherwise.
2. Ask yourself, “What if?”
If you’ve ever spent a day with a toddler, you know their favorite question is “Why?” Why is the sky blue? Why can’t I have ice cream for breakfast? (Why can't I?) We, as writers, could learn a thing or two from their incessant - I mean, incandescent - curiosity.
What if the sky wasn’t blue? What if, one day, it turned lavender, or neon green? What if we did eat ice cream for breakfast, and lunch, and dinner? A lot of great stories start with a question rooted in basic observation. Answer it in the weirdest, wildest way you can think of. Then answer it again, in a different way. As I said in an earlier blog, "Risky Business,” question everything!

My ideas often come from strong mental images. When I'm observing some relatively ordinary thing, I'll think, "What if..." and out of that brainstorming a story emerges. ― Cassandra Clare

3. Get custom story ideas on demand.
Wish you could just push a button for an intriguing idea? You can! Our Story Spinner is here to save you from blank stares into the void and equally blank pages. Spin for quirky combinations of characters, worlds and themes. What do a cat, a cluttered den and delusion have in common? They could be the subjects of your next story!
With over nine thousand different story prompts, the possibilities are endless. Keep spinning until you find one that fuels your imagination, then let it rip.
4. Combine two or more ideas.
Sometimes two, or more, ideas are better than one, merging into an exceptional one. Take, for example, the concept of a young detective investigating a questionable death despite intense pushback from those around him. Now add a world where an asteroid is set to hit in six months. (The result? The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters.)
Taken individually, we have a highly motivated character and a pre-apocalyptic world, two solid story elements. Together, we have the makings of an awesome story (so awesome, in fact, it won the 2013 Edgar Award). Try mixing and matching the characters, worlds, conflicts and themes you come up with.
Now that you have some burgeoning ideas percolating, hold onto them: we'll announce our next contest soon.

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