Where do writers get ideas?


I get asked this question all the time. Usually I just ramble off something trite, but I think that it's time that I actually thought about this.

To be honest, I think too much and too fast. It's part of my ADHD, and I can't control it or I would be able to shut it off and sleep at night. Thinking too much, ADHD people follow trains of thought that never should have left the station ... and end up in weird places.

You see a stranger standing on the street corner holding a sign. You know better than to give them anything or even make eye-contact; a lot of these people are scam-artists, and there are real charities that need your donations. Most people glance at their sign, and then drive past them and never give the person another thought.

But an ADHD person can't leave it there:

Is that person a scam-artist?
Do their clothes look like they are living on the street?
Are they smoking or carrying a cell phone?
Why did they choose the text that they wrote on their sign?
What choices did they make that put them on that street corner?

Now extrapolate this scenario to every person that you have ever seen. (Hey, no one said that this was easy!)

My point is: story ideas are all around us. All you have to do is learn to see them.

Here are 5 requirements for every story:

1. A unique and interesting person.
2. A unique and interesting place.
3. A physical challenge.
4. A mental difficulty.
5. A moral dilemma.

For example, imagine a main character. Are they special enough? Give them a superpower - now are they special? Let's say that you give them invisibility - now are they special?

Take any place - what would make it more-special? A castle is already special - one author may fill it with ghosts ... and another with wizard-students. Is it even more-special now?

The physical challenge = they must find the 'hidden room'.

The mental difficulty = a riddle must be solved.

The moral dilemma = finding the hidden room will kill someone who is a nice person and totally innocent.

All of this may sound silly, but now try this: that main character that you thought of ... forget them ... replace them with your best friend!

You know your best friend intimately - you know how they think. If they suddenly gained the power of invisibility, what would they do first?

1. Fight crime.
2. Rob a bank.
3. Sit around and watch TV.
4. Sell their act to a circus.
5. Sneak into a gym locker room and watch very attractive people shower.

Now you have an interesting main character. They are not just a hollow, 2-dimensional shell; they are based on a real person, someone who is normally very boring, but is given a special power, and how they handle that power can be interesting.

Superman used his powers for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Do you really think that your best friend could be as noble as Superman? Maybe, once they get a superpower, they will want to be Superman, but would their attempts to fight crime be successful? Probably not ... but why not?

Chances are that your best friend could never be like Superman, but their failed attempts and realization of their failure would make an interesting story. But the story is not about the place ... or the super-power ... or the things that happened: the real story is about the person.

And that's the real answer to my original question: Where do writers get ideas?

Novel ideas start as daydreams about people, but then you have to work on them, build their stories, and develop a plot by filling in the 5 requirements for every story.

It isn't easy, and it takes practice. But the greatest part of your work is not coming up with the idea; after the idea is created and fleshed out, then you have to convert it into 50,000+ words of written text.

Good luck with that!

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