As I mentioned in my last post about writing, most of the time for me, figuring out what to write about isn’t an issue–I’m writing on an assignment from work, and things like format, story, and goals are already decided for me. In my opinion, that makes writing a lot simpler, but I’ve heard from people who say they couldn’t write if they had to write about things they aren’t that interested in. So I suppose it’s fortunate that I’m a naturally curious person, and I can pretty much get interested in anything.
But today, we’re going to talk about situations where no one is providing you with a topic, or any other direction regarding what to write, to whom you are writing, or why.
You might be lucky enough to have decided to sit down and write at exactly the time that a story idea has been really calling to you. If so, great–consider your brainstorming complete for today. Go have a cookie. The rest of us are going to talk now about ways to come up with a starting point when you really want to write, but you have no idea what to write about.
Idea #1: Update a favorite old story. I did this for Scriptfrenzy–I love the story of Sleeping Beauty, both the Disney version and the older Grimm Brothers tale. I started thinking about how you could translate some of the major plot points into a contemporary setting. The wicked fairy became a grieving gypsy (so I got to keep the concept of a curse). I started thinking about the idea of being cursed, or believing you are going to die young, (something that I dealt with when I was younger) and how that affects how you relate to people. I’m still working on it, but it was a good start.
Idea #2: Turn a familiar tale inside out. What would “My Fair Lady” be like if it was an upper-class woman trying to “upgrade” a redneck guy? How is the story different when the genders of the mentor/protege roles are switched? Or what would it be like if the upper class person had a reversal of fortunes, and had to learn to fit in with “poor folks”? Can you think of another favorite story that would be interesting if some of the roles were reversed?
Idea #3: Look to your own story. “Write what you know” is a writer’s adage from time immemorial. Think about your own life experiences. Are there any stages or phases, particular periods in your life that could be used a basis, a springboard, for a fictional piece? Starting from your story doesn’t mean you have to stick to it. What if you’d made different choices? What if something had happened differently? How might things have turned out differently?
Brainstorming is an important part of the creative process. At different times, you may be in a more idea-generating mode. Capturing these ideas and putting them on a list somewhere means that when the mood to start churning out prose hits, you’re prepared with some ideas that you’ve come up with and felt excited about, which is a great starting point.