Reading about Writing: Ideas

I decided I’d ease into the writing challenge by starting with some reading, and so I dutifully pulled up Stephen King’s On Writing on my Kindle and started reading at a little after 7pm this evening. Eventually I came across this quote:

“Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognise them when they show up.”

This isn’t a new concept to me, but this evening – having briefly considered the Invisible Duke prompt on my drive home from work earlier – it clicked, specifically this bit:

“two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun”

It didn’t take long to root out a second idea to match with “invisible duke”. There was one I wrote down not long after I saw Maleficent. You see, in fairytales, how everyone looks reflects their morality. The princes and princesses wear white and have golden hair, while the bad guys are all in black, sometimes with scars or warts or horns or goatees to really remind you that they’re Not Very Nice. But what if that wasn’t narrative framing, but a reality-adjusting spell that changed your appearance to match your morality? In such a world, who would be invisible?

That’s what I’m working on building upon at the moment. I’ve got the basics – two characters and how they relate to one another, the core conflict and so on – and tomorrow I’ll work on fleshing this idea out some, work out the characters a bit better. Their histories, beliefs and outlooks. The events that will keep my story moving. Enough that I’ll be ready to start writing by Thursday.

So I’m off to a good start on the prompt, thanks to Stephen King and some good timing.

But let’s get back to what he has to say about ideas: they don’t come fully formed from somewhere, there’s not a specific place you can go to find them, you’ve got to think and make connections and follow where those connections lead, and if they lead nowhere you make another connection and follow, until something just works.

It seems this isn’t an unpopular idea. Basic googling showed me this video, about where good ideas come from in a more general sense, not specific to writing:

And I think it makes sense. Connections are where the exciting things happen. New concepts meeting old. So I think from now on I’ll certainly consider this when struggling for ideas for a new story, or where to take an existing story next – or even what to study.

I keep a semi-active document on my PC, and have a few notes in various notebooks, so I’ll refer to these next time I get stuck on a story, at any stage of the writing of it, and see if any of my old ideas for characters, plots, scenarios or even lines of dialogue might give my story the fresh connection it needs to get moving.

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One thought on “Reading about Writing: Ideas

  1. ““two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun” — This is pretty much the definition of creativity (and also intelligence, the way militaries mean it, but let’s not go there).

    Your story idea sounds interesting. I look forward to finding out what you end up with.

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