Where to find ideas, The five Step Method: Step Four, Sources

Steal like an artist.
Get some old issues of Wired Magazine. Issues before their writing turned into the equivalent of sound bites. Issues of the magazine where they talked to people, about people, and what the people did. You the writer have to come up with why the person did what they did. Autobiography are good to but remember that famous people will not tell you about the dirt. About the pile of bodies with knives in their backs that they are standing on. Bodies that they had to go over to get to where they are. There’s always someone in front of you, someone better than you. It’s your job to fill in who and how they knifed their way to the top.

One story I remember was about a guy who repaired used video slot machines he bought from Russia and sold them in his eastern European country. He hired people to redesign obsolete parts that the maker of the video slot machine was too cheap to do. His rebuilt machines were better than new machines. As time went on he sold the refurbished machine with the latest games on them to people in other countries. Then he started teaching other how to refurbish the machines to save on shipping cost. I liked the part where the US and European cops showed up at his factory and he didn’t expect it. How could he not see it coming? What was the guy thinking or not thinking? That a big gambling company (could there be Mob connections?) that made the machines would let him horn in on their business and not get revenge?

Can’t find back issues of Wired magazines? Then go to a used book store (or on line if you have too) and get several different copies of trivia books. Trivia adds realism to your story. Throw a few bits of random trivia in your story and it makes it sound like you really researched the story’s back ground. Mash trivia pieces up and try them as story ideas.

Also get a bunch of the Bathroom Reader books. You don’t think that works? In one of the books there was a foot note that a Russian prince taught the French to eat meals in courses. A barbaric Russian teaching the French how to eat, what an idea. What a story idea for a Steampunk story. Dinner with the mad Russian. Tell them you heard it here first.

Quote; Ideas are born from what is smelled, heard, seen, experienced, felt, emotionalized.  Rod Serling.

So go out and get emotionalized. And ideas do stink.

Stay strong, write on.     Professor Hyram Voltage

Where to find ideas, The five step method; Step Three Getting Help

Round up the Posse

Stop and think for a second. Is an author the best person to ask the “Question” how do you come up with ideas? Back in the bad old days, maybe two years ago, authors that made their living writing books came out with a book once or twice a year. That’s coming up with one or two sets of ideas a year.

If you want to know about coming up with ideas ask a cartoonist that does a daily cartoon or a daily web comic author. They have to come up with a good idea every day. Every day, including Christmas.

So what do cartoonist do?

Scott Adams of Dilbert fame talks about how he was one of, if not the, first cartoonist that put his email address where readers could send him stuff. Did it work. Things would happen in my office at work that couldn’t happen anywhere else and would appear in the Dilbert cartoon within days of happening. And I know the secretary that was sending him the incidents that were occurring in our office.

Johnny Hart of B.C. fame had a group of friend that would get together and kick around ideas. There’s no rule that your posse can’t be your friends.

Sergio Aragones will go set in a park in his home town and people watch. He makes up reasons for why people act the way they do. Or he will imagine the reason why he would act that way. Then he goes home and works till 3:00 AM drawing cartoons.

Rules for a posse;

  1. Be upfront, tell them they are not getting paid for their ideas.
  2. Tell them that no one can own an idea.
  3. Feed your posse, and I don’t mean limit it to intellectual stuff although that does help. Having a good story to tell your posse will get them in the mood to share. It doesn’t have to be a free lunch. Chips and a six pack will do sometimes. Chocolate is always good. Pizza every now and then is great.
  4. Dedicate a cartoon, story, book, to a member of your posse (it doesn’t have to mention that they gave you the idea for that story, it could be for all the ideas they came up with in the past). Getting your name in a book is a big deal for some people. Naming a character after one of your posse members can be more hassle than it’s worth (what if the next story requires that character to be killed off).
  5. There is no shame in asking for help. There is shame in ignoring those who are trying to help you. Interact with your posse, praise your posse.
  6. If worst comes to worst, use the ideas they give you. If they are really bad ideas then take the worst couple or dozen ideas and mash them up.

But I’m really stuck and don’t have time to round up a posse right now, you say.

Then power through with whoever you can find. Years ago I went to an author signing at a mystery book store (long gone and badly missed bookstore). The author that day use to write jokes for Bob Hope (very famous comedian, they named a street after him in Palm Springs). I asked him where he got his ideas. He told me about the time he and the other writers were flying on an airplane with Bob Hope to give a USO show to military personnel. The plane was diverted. Mr. Hope came down the aisle of the plane. While he walked down the aisle he tore up the jokes for the show. He said, “These jokes won’t work for the new location. Write me some new jokes.”

They were on a military airplane. A slow, noisy military airplane. No movies, no in flight music, (no iPods either), no cell phones in those days, no information about the place they were going to. What did the author do? He wrote jokes. They might not have been good jokes but he wrote jokes, he talked to the other writers and rewrote the jokes. Of course Mr. Hope would kick the jokes back wanting better jokes. They did what took weeks before the trip, in a couple of hours, but they wrote jokes.

So put Ghost Riders on the Victrola and round up your posse partner, we got a story to write.

Stay strong, write on.       Professor Hyram Voltage

Where to find ideas, The five step method; Step Two

Capture them.
Ideas are elusive and fleeting. They will not wait around till you’re ready for them. They are here, then gone. They’re worst than Pokemon Go prizes. Ideas have legs and they run, fast.
How do you capture ideas, you write them down. Make a list of ideas as they come to you. Become a list making fiend. Authors tell budding authors to carry a note book. Don’t just carry one, use it. Use it as soon as you get an idea. Even if the idea is not useable in the story you’re working on, write it down. There’s a reason it got your attention, your interest. Don’t let that idea get away.
I have listened to many authors talk at book signings about the folders and file cabinets they have full of newspaper chippings, magazine articles, and notes jotted down when they woke up in the middle of the night. I have not heard of them using one of those hundreds or thousands of squirreled away ideas for a novel. So I challenge you to not only write down any ideas that stumbles into you, but to review your lists of ideas. It doesn’t matter if you review them weekly, monthly, or every couple of years. What you will find is that an idea you wrote down years ago is now ripe, ready to use. It may have needed the world to be in the place it now is to be a “good” idea, but it is now ready for you. Or you are ready for it.
I have heard many authors talk about how some idea, some incident, haunted them for years. The idea stewed in the back of their mind. Then something happened and the idea turned into a great novel (with a ton of work by the author, these things don’t write themselves). It may be that a new idea mashed upped with the old idea.

What good is making lists of ideas? If you have a friend that is a gossip taking out your list of ideas and writing something down will stop a gossip in their tracks. Gossip depend on rumor and hear say. If you document who said what about whom, the gossip will get cold feet, if they’re smart.

Turn off your music player, take out the ear buds. Listen to what is going on around you. Pay attention to the world around you. There are lots of crazy things, crazy ideas going on around you. Look, listen, and write them down. You have grown up trying to shield yourself from the noise and craziness around you. People gossiping about relatives, about other people at work are handing you ideas on a silver platter. You’re a writer now. Listen, adsorbs, and write down what is going on around you. Adsorb the craziness so you can put it in your story. You are not a spectator at a Roman circus, you are a gladiator. Your pen is your sword. Keep it sharp, practice, and slay them.

Stay strong, write on.               Professor Hyram Voltage

Where to find ideas, The five step method; Step one

Step 1. Open up.

It’s not that simple. Time and time again, both as a writer and professional, I have seen ideas brushed away, tossed aside, ignored. Like “Casey at the bat” the ideas presented were just not right. These ideas were lovingly, honestly, presented after a lot of hard thinking.

I do not know if the person rejecting the ideas had an agenda, wanted an idea that was a fully formed story, novel, or even a book series. Weather she wanted the idea to come with a muse attached ready to get down and write her a story, or what. I do know that in a profession setting where we were brain storming ideas that we would get two types; one type wanted things done his way or no way. He would constantly bring up reasons why ideas presented by others would not work, even though it was a ground rule that no one would say anything negative about other inputs or ideas in the session, and management would not let us throw the bum out. The other type was the budding manager that kept pushing off topic ideas, ideas that would get more people working under him which would get him a pay raise, a better parking space, a promotion.

Don’t be one or both of these. Except any and all ideas.

Before you ask for ideas;

a. Determine why you want an idea. Is it for a book, a short story, a series. Are you suffering from writers block. Have you written yourself into a corner and need a way out. Write down the reason you need an idea. Then open up to the fact that you may need several ideas. You need an idea for the story, an idea for the character, an idea for the world, and most importantly you need an idea for the villain.

b. Determine your restrictions on the idea. Figure out the box the idea must fit in. Does the idea have to fit in a happy story? Does the main character have to be female? Does the setting have to be on an island on a water covered planet? Does the villain always have to be a scientist form a desert planet that wants to drain the water from this planet and take it back to his planet?

Write any idea given to you down. When you ask someone or a group for ideas write the ideas down. It shows you value their input. Ask questions about the ideas they put forward. It show you care about the effort they are putting into trying to help you. (Even if the ideas are in right field). Give complements to those who are giving you ideas, even if you think the ideas are useless. Feed those giving you ideas. Cookies can generate ideas. Chocolate and creativity go together.

Go over the list of ideas that people gave you afterwards. Don’t blow any idea off. Make a two column list of the ideas. Draw a line from an idea in column A to an idea in column B. Write a couple of lines about a story that could be developed from the two ideas. Think “Pride Prejudice and Zombies.”

Remember out of the mouths of babes comes wisdom and pablum. You’re going to get some of both on you when looking for ideas.

Turn off your cell phone and look around you. The ideas are out there, they surround you. They may not feel right, but they are there. And the idea that feels the worst may be the best one.

Ideas are priceless, don’t waste them.

Stay strong, write on.             Professor Hyram Voltage