I suppose this will be a minimalist approach to ideas. But it’s important to understand an idea at the most minimalist level. We all tend to jump in ideas and launch excitedly into a story without actually understanding that step of the process.
For fiction writing, I got prompts or “what do I do with it?” If I left fiction off my search, I got a lot of discussion on them from the business side. But those are not the same thing.
WHAT ISN’T A STORY IDEA
To define what the idea is, we have to start with what it isn’t.
The business side sometimes gets mixed in here. Ideas there can turn into inventions. People new to fiction fear that if they don’t copyright the idea before they even write it, someone else will steal it. Usually, it’s the most horribly cliched storyline that Hollywood’s done a dozen times.
Psst. If Hollywood’s done a story, you’ve shot way past cliché, said she who wrote an amnesia story. Yeah, well…
An idea is NOT the entire story, or the plot.
SO WHAT IS A STORY IDEA THEN?
I had a hard time coming up with ideas because I thought I had to come up with the entire story. That also meant the story had to be good on my first inking of creativity.
A lot of pressure.
I worked with another writer at one point and we got into a huge fight over ideas. Everything I came up with—which was going for a full-blown story—he dismissed because he didn’t like the idea. The result was that nothing got written because we were busy looking at the tree that we missed the forest.
An idea, simply, is a tiny pot of inspiration to get you started into the story. To get your creativity to the starting point.
Each story is going to have hundreds, or even thousands, of ideas. Each scene starts with another idea. Isn’t that pretty cool?
It’s a lot easier than coming up with a full-blown story at the starting line.
HOW DO YOU EVALUATE YOUR STORY IDEA?
I used to get these ideas that were so shiny and exciting that I had to start the story right now! Even writing them down in a pocket notebook wasn’t enough. I had to start writing! Because if I didn’t…well, I didn’t know what would happen.
And then…the story would fizzle out. Maybe a page or two later. I had a lot of those stubs of stories.
Moreover, I couldn’t even come back to them. Disconnected from the shiny object I used to create them, I didn’t know how to connect my creativity back to them.
Years later, I found one of those old pocket notebooks. I could see why those ideas had tickled my creativity and I could also see why they hadn’t turned into stories.
Not all ideas are equal. Some are just your creativity working on the problem. It’s just a stop on the journey to what it’s working on.
So the best way to evaluate the idea is to write it down. If you’re already coming up with more detail, write that down, too. Then let it sit for a few days. One of two things will happen:
It’ll nag at you over the next few days, working at it like a dog chews on a bone. Then demand to be written.
Or you’ll forget about it. One day you’ll run across and wonder what you were thinking.
Next up: Coming up with ideas!