Disclaimer: I do not own some of the concepts presented in this guide. However, I do own a few of the concepts mentioned within. Bit of a derivation from the norm, isn't it?
The Sane Writer's Guide To: Idea Development
Shameless Inception Quoting Below
What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient... highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it's almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed - fully understood - that sticks; right in there somewhere.
Among the writers I've met, I've noticed a few trends. Some have little to no creative willpower, and have an incredibly hard time creating and developing new ideas. Others literally have so many ideas that they have a hard time focusing on one, or even selecting one for that matter. One in particular has good ideas but doesn't write at all due to laziness and an obsession with video games, but that's besides the point. In short, ideas come more easily to some writers than others.
The majority of ideas are fickle, flighty things. Inspiration comes in many forms, from misspelled words to lucid dreams. However, what does one do with an idea once they've managed to pin it down?
First, write the idea down while it's still fresh in your mind. Even if you're sure that you'll remember it, it's good to keep a reminder around. You don't have to get it all down at once, but make sure you'll remember what your shorthand means later ("The hell? What's "pink space carrots unicorn" supposed to mean?"). This doesn't sound like much, but it's exceptionally helpful for more scatterbrained writers.
Now that you've got the idea, think about it. Try and distill it into one or two sentences. Here are two old ones of my own to serve as examples.
A seemingly eccentric chef roams a city's monotonous streets, giving delicious food to passing businesspeople and inadvertently changing their lives.
A musical fanatic in search for the perfect voice finds it in the form of a half-blind pianist with a mysterious past and ends up falling for him.
In a dystopian world, a revolution kicks off with a jaded woman and a ten-year-old helicopter pilot who travel into the impossible.
Of course, most ideas don't come ready made. They can be as vague as "a man with a dark cloak" or "artist who paints by dancing". Still, once you've got the gist of it, the rest is relatively straightforward.
Now, question yourself. Treat your concept as if it belongs to someone else and you're curious about it. If a friend was coming to you with this idea, what would you ask? Some possible (but not mandatory) questions are:
Who and what does the protagonist care about, and why?
What was the protagonist's childhood like and how has it affected them?
Does the protagonist have friend or love interests? What are they like?
What is the protagonist's role in their world?
What is the world around the protagonist like and how do they feel about it?
What are the protagonist's enemies like? Why do they oppose the protagonist?
How does the world around them see the protagonist and how does it respond?
The key for developing ideas in this way is asking questions which bring more questions when answered. "Chains" of questions might look a little like this:
Does your protagonist have a love interest?
What is the love interest like?
How does the love interest act around the protagonist?
How does the love interest react around other people?
How do other people react to the love interest character?
Is there any event in the story that could alter any of the above perceptions?
In the end, it's not really just a story anymore, is it? It's an entire universe with you as its god. It doesn't matter if the information you come up with isn't even tied into the plot at all. In fact, the more you know about your characters and their world, the better you can understand who they are. Even if your character's ability to stick a spoon to his nose and balance it there for hours on end doesn't come up in your plotline at all, it helps you understand who the character is.
It's astounding how small ideas can become much greater. At the risk of sounding pretentious and stuck up, I'll give an example from my own experiences.
For a long time, the image of a cloaked man was rattling around in my mind. I must have tried putting him in at least four or five different stories in an attempt to find out where he belonged, everything from a typical high fantasy to a sci-fi story focusing on video games.
Then, one day, it hit me. I got the mental image of that same cloaked character kicking down a door to rescue a woman in a silver costume. I suddenly had all the pieces, and all I had to do was put them together.
It was a fascinating process. Characters were created almost on instinct, each bringing new concepts and weaving themselves in seamlessly. My mind was a flurry of inspiration as question after question was mentally asked and new answers poured in, bringing new questions in a mind-boggling cycle. Suddenly, instead of just a vague idea, I had a whole universe in front of me, and it was amazing.
Looking back, I wonder how I did it, how I managed to create another universe in the space of a few hours. Some combination of sugar, boredom, and an overactive imagination no doubt, triggered by a song or a phrase or a flash of light. All it took was the right moment, and I got lucky and ended up with something amazing. But I digress.
This approach to idea development might not work for everyone. However, it's been highly effective for me, as well as for some of my fellow writers.
In short, ideas create themselves and grow on their own. Your goal as the author is to help them along and give them a little help as they go.
Best wishes to all of you.
Author's Note: I am not dead. Just to clarify.
Before you rip my head off...I have created a concept for an original story to be posted on Fictionpress in the works. It will only begin being published up here once it is fully written, and I will then put it up periodically.
I am also working on a piece for a fiction anthology, and polishing my existing novel ideas. Now that I am properly back in my routine, updates should be regular again.
Yes, I loved Inception. I found it mind-screwy and epic in all the best ways.
All of the concepts above are my own, although if someone wants to try writing what they think "pink space carrots unicorn" meant, send me a link.
I have also launched a poetry series, Musings of a Bored Writer.
I know I'm pathetic. I get that a lot.
Anyway, thanks for reading. Reviews are liked.