How do I come up with different ideas?
About a week ago, one of my friends asked me this question. It was a good question to ask. So good, in fact, that I didn’t have an answer. My response was essentially: “That’s a really good question, but I legit have no idea.” But it got me thinking. How do I come up with new ideas for stories that are (hopefully) completely different from my previous work? How do I try to ensure that I don’t turn into a one trick pony, as the saying goes?
Below I am going to tell you about some questions I ask myself when I am planning a new story; and the process I go through in order to make them different from one another.
For me, it all starts with the crux of the idea. Does the new idea in any way mirror what my previous novel was about? If it kind of does, what are the similar elements? If the similar elements are quite big, such as the use of a creepy house, or an ominous looking shadowy figure (like The Lady in the Coat), then I will go back to the planning board and attempt to plan the idea out again. Instead of having events pan out this way, I will plan out what would occur if a character said or did this rather than that. One character’s decision could potentially change the direction of the entire story. I may even change the setting; or rather than setting a story in the city, I may decide to set it in the country, or vice versa. Sometimes the first idea doesn’t work, and nor does the second or even third; but always remember that the more ideas you try, the closer you will come to the one that fits and makes sense.
One of the biggest hurdles I have had to train my brain to think past is the fact that not all villains have to be non-human or unknown entities. I guess that I believe them to be much scarier than us humans which is extremely ignorant of me, because some of the nastiest, most callous beings in history are… you guessed it…HUMANS! Also, I find that if you make your antagonist(s) real people – you know, your typical neighbourly person(s), then it makes the story that much more terrifying because the villains you have created are everyday people. As they say, the scariest monsters lie within us.
So if I come up with a non-human villain, great! I just have to be very, very careful to not make said villain anything like The Lady in the Coat. On the other side of the coin, human villains can be made to be quite different rather easily – different appearance, mannerisms, and ways of doing the bad things they do. But; and this is a BIG but. You have to make your villain(s) believable and relatable to some extent. In saying that, getting yourself inside the mind of your villainous character(s) can be extremely difficult – I know that I have had my fair share of struggles (and fear).
I am also very conscious of writing “generic” stories; and by “generic” I mean a haunted house story or stories that have been done many times before in different ways. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great haunted house story, but as an author, you want to not only push the idea-envelope when it comes to your genre(s), but you also want to push yourself as a writer. I don’t want to be a writer that writes the stereotypical stories that the public expect of someone who writes in my genre. I want to blend genres (I mean, who said you can’t blend a romance with a horror story? Or crime with a dash of comedy?). I aim to push the boundaries and create twists that will leave the reader hankering for more.
Remember that there are thousands of books being published every day, so you have to make sure that your book is different from the rest. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t write a haunted house story, or a classic murder mystery; I’m simply saying that if you do, be sure to add content that will be unexpected and thrilling for the reader. (Killing off suspects or main characters is always a good time).
Never, ever, ever believe that your idea for a story is terrible or unrealistic. If someone tells you that your idea is not feasible or good, ask them what ideas they have for a story?
Their answer will probably be complete silence.
As I always say: “Anything is possible in fiction. Don’t discount you own idea simply because someone else has.”