Friday, 27 January 2012

How professionals generate story ideas


If you're going to make a living writing then one great story idea is not enough. You have to keep churning them out. If you manage to get the attention of an agent or editor with a great piece of writing they will want to know what other ideas you have in your bank. I know this because a Television Story Producer and Script Editor told me. Here's what else I learned from them on how to collate a story portfolio.

Stories must be realer than reality

Reality is a great resource but just because something happened in real life doesn't mean it's going to be believable on the page. Sure, people do crazy unpredictable things in life but in your story-world actions must be motivated and believable in the context in which you create them. People just won't buy it otherwise.

Imitation rarely results in success

Genre and medium conventions always apply if you want to write in those genres for those mediums but don't slavishly copy writers you admire. It's originality and freshness that will make an editor sit up and notice. Remember, these people trawl through acres of new writing. Give them a reason to pick yours.

Practice active listening

You're a creative right? Words should just tumble out of you right? Wrong. If you're looking for ideas you should shut-up and listen. The only words coming out of your mouth should be those open questions you ask when someone is telling you an interesting story.

Research

You don't have to write what you know but you should know what you write. Just enough research to stimulate your imagination and give authenticity to your work – no more is required.

Separate generation and evaluation

Be clear – if you're creating ideas don't start assessing them or trying to work them too early – just keep those ideas coming. One exceptionally good idea is worth ten crap ones. Hell, one good idea is worth a hundred crap ones. So keep those ideas coming. You never know, todays crap idea may actually look pretty good tomorrow.

Develop a writers' network

It's a lonely business, but it doesn't have to be. Don't be afraid to phone a writer friend and talk ideas through. It's just an idea, and ideas can be tested and improved by talking them out with people who understand what you're about. Exercising  ideas like this will help generate new ones and take the originals into places you might not have got to alone.

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