Took an online writing workshop this past summer called "Ideas to Story" hosted by Dean Wesley Smith. I don't buy into everything he says on his blog, but I am a fan and one thing he taught in the workshop was a real eye opener for me. And that is that ideas are everywhere. There is no shortage of story ideas. And as writers, we can learn to generate an endless supply of ideas for use in our stories.
The myth is that ideas are like gold. That they're precious. That they're rare.
No. Ideas are everywhere.
The false belief that ideas are super special often leads to two behaviors: If there are only a few ideas floating around out there, we have to a) harbor them so no one else will steal them or b) keep massaging that idea (keep tweaking that novel!) because we'll never get another good one. After all, it took forever to come up with this great idea...they don't come along all that often...and oops! I'm back to believing the myth that ideas are precious, scarce, or rare.
Truth: Ideas are a dime a dozen; they're everywhere. The reason we think they're hard to come up with is that we equate ideas with plot. Ideas are not fully plotted stories. Ideas are simply that - a thought, a concept that serves as a kernel for further development. Sure, we all want our ideas to be good. Because there are bad ideas and stupid ones and silly ones and unworkable ones. But all this proves is that there is no limit to the number of ideas we can come up with. We've got ideas out the wazoo.
The problem is that we want to be unique or creative with our plot and we think that depends on having a unique or creative idea. But ideas are not plots. If that's our thought process, then we're in for a disappointment because of the limited number of plot lines out there. The truth is there are only about 7 basic plots (or 20 or 36, depending on who's counting, lol). So we aren't going to be original there no matter how hard we try. The 'originality' comes in the telling of the story - our own unique voice, and skill, and passion in the telling.
The lesson? We can take any ol' idea and run with it to create a story. All you need is a character in a setting with a problem. Boom, that's your opening idea.
Go forth and multiply.
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