I came across a book packaging site the other day. They, like other companies like them, will choose a writer to write a book for them. They’ll give the writer an idea and the writer is then supposed to do the heavy lifting for a flat fee rather than a percentage of the royalties and in some cases without even having their name on the books they’ve written.
Ideas aren’t hard to come by. In fact, I’ve started a list that I fill out every night before bed. I come up with 5 ideas (titles, characters, plots, settings, whatever) and jot them down. The idea is that I’ll have a nice pool of jumping off points to choose from if I’m ever stymied.
I thought I’d share my method of developing an idea into something workable. With a diagrams! I’m a visual person so any time I can come up with a visual aid, it’s a happy day for me.
I pulled an interesting plot idea off the take a plot idea thread in the NaNoWriMo forums a few months ago, but didn’t write down the details so I’m just going to go my own way with it. A futuristic society has developed a way to add enhancement implants into humans, but the implants have some sort of awful drawback. I like it for the purposes of this entry. It’s pretty open ended.
The original idea could come from literally anywhere. A newspaper story you read might spark some speculation, a movie you watched might have had an awesome premise, but you feel like the execution wasn’t what it should have been, maybe you pick it up from a site like the Nano forums… it doesn’t really matter where you get an idea as long as it inspires you to examine it from all sides and see where it might lead.
I prefer using a mind map for this next part, but I’ve also used bulleted lists. I give myself permission to be as sloppy and cliché as I want. That’s important. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge even your dumbest ideas because, in my head at least, one thought leapfrogs to another until I’m thinking about something that has nothing to do with the original idea. Besides, if an idea is really awful you just drop it.
I use a program called Xmind for mind mapping. They have a pro version that costs money, but I’ve found the free version to be perfectly acceptable for what I use it for. Try the herring bone structure for a time line… it works great.
Ok, so our central idea is Enhancement Implants. Now I would start using a combination of things I “know” about the idea and W questions (who, where, what, why, how) to start filling in my map. Whenever a branch forms I start asking myself questions about THAT. By the time I’ve been at it for half an hour or so I can usually start the processes of world building, character creation, and outlining the plot.
I’m alternating between filling out my map and writing this post. But I found my first interesting possibility for a story.
I was exploring the idea that maybe these implants should be mandatory. Which lead to some new questions. What happens if you don’t get one and what kind of a person would rebel against getting one? I have a seed of an idea now. A character lives in a society where it has become mandatory to get implants to enhance performance and correct any defects. There are drawbacks, maybe widely known or maybe a closely guarded secret, but there are people who are in opposition to the mandate. One of these people might make an interesting main character.
Ah, interesting. What if the drawback was that the implants are organs and tissues taken from people who live in a “people farm”? It’s been done before, sure, but it might be worth exploring further. It adds some drama from the outset. Especially if the penalty for crimes against the state would be to be sent off to one of the farms to be harvested. And if refusing the implant was in itself a crime…
So now we have the beginnings of a plot. We’ve got a scenario and some conflict. We just have to ask ourselves what sort of character would live in a world like this? Then we start throwing some of that conflict at them. Maybe the MC is a member of the resistance or maybe their cherished brother was taken off to the people farms for a crime he didn’t commit. Something has to happen that puts MC at odds with the rest of the world.
Since this is me we’re talking about, I’d most likely end up going a paranormal direction with this. Maybe the people farms aren’t made of people, but some kind of supernatural creature instead. I don’t know.
If this were a real project, I’d have several layers of sub branches fanning out, but this is the basic process. Once I had a decent idea of where the story might go, I start world building, character sketches, and outlining though a series of mind maps and bulleted lists where I just pour out all my ideas onto the page. I move back and forth between the three because an idea about one thing will often cause me to do a new chart about the others.
I think the main thing about coming up with ideas is to let yourself be fluid. Nothing is written in stone so feel free to go off on a tangent. It might lead somewhere interesting.
I’m uploading the finished map to Xmind. You can find it here.