Truth is, I could never write every idea that came into my head. My subconscious is literally a roiling sea of ideas, thoughts, characters, and story lines that I’ve never really been able to control.
Telling an author, “Oh, you should really write the story of …” or “Oh, you should write a story with a beagle with super crime-solving skills” is counterproductive (thanks Jim for that suggestion). It is like telling an auto mechanic that since they can turn a wrench they should just go out and start working on Boeing 747s. Those are both mechanics, but different animals entirely. A story has to be your own if you are going to write it successfully. At least this is true for me.
Ideas for new story lines generally don’t come from people, at least not their mouths. I do find inspiration from people’s actions. Every time I see a news flash with the words ‘gruesome murder’ or ‘scene of horror’ in the news, I stop and read the story. Just like everyone, I draw from real life and use those examples to inform what I am working on at the moment.
Ideas have to have three things to make them viable in my mind.
- I have to have a story that is real enough to be at least believable at some level. I am not saying it can’t be outlandish, but it has to come with the element of ‘being possible’. I can write a story about a man who trains his pet elephant to kill people and they plot out the deaths in his apartment in Manhattan. However, I can write story about a serial killer who preys on elephant handlers at the zoo. The first idea would never work because you’d never find an apartment in New York large enough to accommodate a pet elephant.
- I need to feel for the characters in my proposed story. A serial killer has to have a compelling enough backstory that I can work with. The characters he hunts need to illicit some sort of emotion from you. It can be any emotion, but it has to be there and it has to be genuine. In The Dramatic Dead, the main character actually has a backstory (it is in the epilogue). He is the way he is because of a tragedy in his life. I don’t want you to sympathize with him, just understand what drove him to the point of his madness.
- It needs to have an ending. I have a friend, who is a famous author and he loves to leave you hanging on a thread as to what happens to the characters, dangling in the literary abyss. I hate that. Love his work, but hate how he leaves me on that ledge. If I’m going to write a novel, I need an ending. Sometimes I want to make sure you know everything is all right. Other times I will leave you with other emotions, but all matters are settled to one degree of satisfaction or another.
I have tons more stories than I can use. They are all floating around in my head at any given time with wild abandon. I don’t write them all down, although sometimes I do. I do have an idea notebook I bring with me to scribble down notes.
What about you, oh dear friends? Do you have any ideas? How about this, if we were going to write the perfect story line, what would it be? E-mail me your ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org
-Your Humble Servant,