Story Basics

Coming up with Ideas

Intro: Before you begin writing, you need a jumping-off idea. This could be a joke, a character, a world, or even an ending.

The question that I get asked the most about my writing is where I get my ideas from. Whether you have a seedling of an idea for an entire half-hour comedy pilot or you just want to get a laugh or two from the toast you are preparing to give at your best friend’s wedding, there is one key factor that I visit time and again when I need new/more material: do the opposite.

You might be surprised by how many movie premises come from taking something that is successful and doing the opposite of it. What if a pair of producers intentionally tried to put on a flop as opposed to a hit? Ergo: The Producers.

What if a crooked lawyer had to tell the truth during the biggest case of his career? Ergo: Liar Liar. The reason movies like Liar Liarand The Producerswork as comedies is because they are a unity of opposites. What do lawyers normally do? They lie. Ergo, make a lawyer who cannot lie.

But that does not limit this technique to one genre. For example, what if, instead of a buddy road trip comedy starring two men, there was a buddy road trip dramastarring two women? Ergo: Thelma & Louise.

Naturally, some of the aspects will have to remain the same. Thelma and Louise could have made it to the Grand Canyon via spaceship instead of Cadillac, but all movies take a figurative if not also a literal journey, so something would have to get them from Point A to Point B.

Some ideas start out with a worst-case scenario question. What’s a parent’s worst nightmare? Having their child murdered. Ergo, The Hunger Games. What’s the worst thing a babysitter can do? Lose the kids. Ergo, Adventures in Babysitting.

Many ideas start out with the simple phrase “What if?” For example: what if Peter Pan grew up? Hook. What if a man rented a hooker for the week and fell in love with her? Pretty Woman.

Many story ideas are made by a desire to create an allegory. According to Toy Storyco-writer Andrew Stanton, Toy Story is the story of a father (Woody) losing his son (Andy).” According to myself, it is also about a man (Buzz Lightyear) who wakes up one day to find out that his entire life has been a lie. The Hunger Gameswas written as an anti-war statement, according to the author herself, Suzanne Collins, in honor of her father.

Top 5 Story Generators

  1. Motifs from numerous books.
  2. Visual imagery.
  3. Opening line.
  4. Music.
  5. Real life.

  1. Many write stories based on recurring themes they’ve noticed or become attached to, and not just for parody or Christian fiction. If you think you can make an addition to the lineup while still standing out, or relay a moral that you hold dear without sounding clichéd, go for it. I noticed a common theme of traitorous women in European literature and lore that inspired me to write my first fantasy series.

  1. I once found a single ebook cover that I wanted to write a story behind, and that’s exactly what I did. It’s usually totally plagiarism- and cost-free to write a story of your own based on an image of another author’s work

  1. I thought of a joke I figured would be good to start with because it set the tone for the series and revealed a lot about my protagonist.

  1. I used this especially for developing my heroes’ romantic chemistry; I named the playlist L&N Romance.

  1. I also doctored the way in which my own parents started their relationship and placed parts of it in the lives of my heroes and their budding romance and the rest in their parents’ long love lives. Don’t think that you need to keep the entirety of a family member’s or friend’s memorable anecdote relegated to just one relationship, joke, plot point, etc.; break it up into pieces and deal it out as you please.
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