by Jared Hammond
All great stories start with an idea. It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction, nonfiction, journalism, poetry, screenwriting, or music lyrics; they all need to come from somewhere. But I can’t tell you how to have an idea because that would be like teaching somebody how to breathe. What I can tell you is where you can go to find inspiration.
1. Start an idea journal
Ideas can come to us when we least expect them to. They come in the middle of a conversation, when you’re driving to work, or when you’re in the shower. They sit on your shoulder screaming, “write me already!” But you can’t because it’s neither the time nor the place. This is why you keep an idea journal. It can be a small notepad, post-it notes, or an app on your smartphone. If an idea comes to you, jot it down, and go back to living. It’ll be there when you need it.
2. Read, watch, and listen
What better way for getting an idea than by experiencing your favorite stories. So spend some time reading your favorite books, or watching your favorite movies. Maybe you can think of a different way to approach that topic, or maybe you’ve always fantasized about how you wished a certain story would go differently. Go with those ideas and see where they take you.
3. Go people watching
I don’t mean go out and follow people around. That’s called stalking, and it’s illegal. What I mean is whenever you find yourself out in public, sitting at a restaurant, grocery shopping, etc. Take the time to notice the people around you. Try to imagine what those people are like. Better yet, try to get to know them in person. Either way, every person you meet is a character with a story.
4. Pay attention to current events
Do a little research on what’s going on. Ask yourself; what are the major events, who are the key players, and how do they all connect? Build a timeline of cause and effect to make those connections. Then ask yourself, “What if this happened?”
5. Follow a pattern
It can be hard to figure out which direction a story should go in. Luckily for you there are thousands of stories out there and they all share commonalities. Many of them follow a pattern similar to Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. It’s the same pattern that’s inspired stories like Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. Don’t worry about making your story original. Just concentrate on making it your own.