Right, I promised you a meaty post on becoming inspired to write and coming up with ideas for a story, so here it is.
Now, as there are no right and wrong ways to approach this, I’ll share some of the techniques that work well for me.
Becoming inspired is not as easy as you might first think. Here is the official definition of the word:
- an inspiring or animating action or influence: I cannot write poetry without inspiration.
- something inspired, as an idea.
- a result of inspired activity.
- a thing or person that inspires.
Inspiration can come in the form of a person, an object, another piece of writing or an event. I often find that I become inspired by reading: either other fantasy/non-fantasy novels, news articles, history writing and anything else I can lay my hands on. I’m not a huge fan of poetry, but I enjoy it in small doses.
Another major inspiration for me is visiting museums, castles or anywhere with some history to it. I love learning about history and I find it inspiring everything that I write in some way. I’m sure authors like George R.R. Martin have delved into the political intrigues of the
Roman Empire at some point and researched the Renaissance-era House of Borgia (hence a prominent quote on the back of his first book). The point is, if you can’t think of something suitably thrilling or devious for your own story, borrow from history a little.
A third inspiration of mine comes from movies and TV (usually well-written drama). When I write, I find myself thinking about my story like a movie. Over the years, I’ve had to adjust this way of thinking to allow for more in-depth plots and twists (or the book would barely be a novella) but I find it works well for me. The ultimate goal for your writing is not just to put a picture in the reader’s head, but to immerse them completely in the world that you’ve created. I’ve experienced this rarely, but most recently with Joe Abercrombie’s writing. It really is a huge accomplishment when an author can
make you forget where you are and make you actually able to see their fictional world and characters with your own eyes. This is a really hard experience to describe and even more impossible to advise how to write, but it’s something I one day aspire to being able to do.
The best piece of advice I’ve ever heard with regards to ideas is this:Don’t jump too fast at your “what ifs.” They are like items on a menu… the picture is appealing, and you know it’ll taste good. But will it nourish? Will it fill you, does it check something off your bucket list, will it give you focus and joy and challenge? Is the idea worth a year of your life?
Asking ‘What If?’ is a good way to think up new ideas for a story, that’s true. However, you can almost guarantee that it won’t generate an idea that you can base a novel on. Here are a few examples:
- What if… humans had never discovered electricity?
- What if… there was life on the Moon?
- What if… we lived on Mars and not Earth?
These ideas are all well and fine, but you need to be asking further questions like:
If electricity didn’t exist, who would discover alternatives? Was there conflict or tension that arose from this? Would the Middle East be viewed as a threat if nuclear power didn’t exist?
After you’ve asked these questions and got an idea that you think is so amazing that you couldn’t possibly ignore it, you need to start weaving a story into it. Think of it like the human body. First you have a skeleton – this is your awesome idea. Then, you have organs, fat and muscle that get slotted into place within and around this framework – this is your story, the real meat on the bones. There are steps after this, of course, but we’re only concerned with the story for now.
If the Lord of the Rings had just been about Sauron waging war against Gondor and there was no One Ring and no hobbits, where would we be? What if Spider-man was a crime fighter but there were no super villains to defeat? How about if you studied to become a doctor but then suddenly nobody ever got ill again? This is what happens if there’s no story to let the reader explore this fantastic idea that you’ve dreamed up. You can’t drive a car without tyres, so don’t write a book without a story.
I think I’ll leave it here for today. Check back tomorrow for something completely different.