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

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