Isn’t Blue adorable? She had two little girls this year, Cocoa and Zanzi. I’m naming all the goats born this year after bugs. If you can guess where I got those two names, I will know we are destined to be friends! Anyway, this is a post I wrote a while ago about how I get my story ideas; Blue was the inspiration for a 90K manuscript I hope to be worthy of submitting to agents by the end of this year. If it gets published, I might have to give her a commission.
I love it when Mez’s posts segue perfectly into what I’ve been thinking about! I would say great minds think alike, but I think it’s more like crazed, fantasy writing obsessed minds think alike, and that doesn’t sound quite as flattering. Oh well, at least it’s honest!
Mez posted some great tips on getting your creativity going, and I’m going to go from there. So let’s start from the very beginning…your very basic story idea. This is where observation and the ‘What if’ question comes in. We all get our ideas from different places since we are all different, so I’m just going to tell you where I got some of my ideas, and maybe that will give you some inspiration where to find yours!
If you read the About Us page, you know I raise dairy goats. Here’s how to get a fantasy story from goats! I have a cute little goat named Shining Bluestar. I just call her Blue. That’s her pictured above. Forgive the bad photo; she doesn’t stand still for more than a nanosecond! So Blue and I were going through our nightly routine, which goes something like this:
Me: Come on, Blue, time to get off the milk stand!
Blue: But I’m still hungry!
Me: Blue, there is water outside for you to drink. Come on.
Blue: But I want THIS water!
Me: BLUE! Come ON! Your sisters are already outside. LET’S GO!!
Blue: Hey, what’s that??
You get the idea. Since this is a nightly routine, my mind was wandering (a great thing for a mind to do!) and I got to thinking about Blue’s name. I’ve heard of lots of animals named Blue, but I would never name a goat Yellow or Orange, and I was wondering why that was. Then I backed up and wondered what a human named Blue would be like. The idea intrigued me, so while I milked my next group, I imagined a girl named Blue. Like my goat, she would be small but a force to be reckoned with. Like me, she would like fantasy animals, so I decided she wanted to be a cryptozoologist. A quick check on that told me it wasn’t what I thought it was (Big Foot and Nessie, not fairies and unicorns) but I liked the idea so much, I kept it.
By 2:00 AM (NOT a good idea, by the way) I had a pretty good idea who Blue was: a 17 year old blonde with blue eyes, not even five feet tall, who wants to be a cryptozoologist when she graduates, despite the fact her teachers discourage her. I knew her backstory and the guy she is going to fall in love with. What’s going to happen in Blue’s story? I HAVE NO IDEA!! But I have a character ready to go on an adventure because I asked “What if” in a completely random way.
Here’s a little exercise for you using “What if.” Open a document on your computer or turn to a blank page in your journal, and get ready. Imagine you’re sitting somewhere, maybe in a doctor’s office or a coffee shop, and you look over to see a small girl talking to her stuffed bear. Not just talking to it, you realize, but having a full on conversation with it.
So here’s your “What if.” What if the teddy bear is actually talking to her? What if she isn’t pretending, but having an actual conversation? How is this possible? Write down the first idea you think of.
Got it? Good! Now write down nine more. Go now, fast! Be creative, silly, scary, random, not even possible, just get down nine more ideas as fast as you can. If you have to, set a timer for 2 minutes and get those ideas down in that time. If you get stuck, look around. I find looking away from my screen or page helps!
If you are like me, the first five are easy. The next two are harder. The last ones get weird. But the very last one I came up with is the most interesting. I could definitely make a story out of it. I’ll post mine in the comments, feel free to post yours to!
There are things happening all around you that can inspire a story as long as you are looking for them and willing to ask “What if.” And to think way, way out of the box!
I also look to other books and movies for inspiration. Note, I am not talking about using other people’s ideas. But sometimes there is just a certain aspect of a book that resonates with you. I read a book years ago, and I found I really liked the idea of a werewolf guiding a girl through a forest. Random, right? But that idea led to another story I am working on now. It looks nothing like the book I read. (If anyone knows what book I am talking about, please tell me, I can’t remember! It’s got two simultaneous stories going on, one in our world, one in a fantasy realm. The real world story has a girl looking for her brother and the fantasy has a girl looking for a kidnapped dragon baby with the werewolf helping. I read it almost 10 years ago and really liked it!)
Anyways, back on track, while that book inspired me, I made sure my story was mine, not a variation of the book I read. I love rewriting books and movies in my head, and sometimes I realize what is in my head is no longer anything like how it started.
So here’s another exercise! Pick a movie or a book. What would you change about it? I usually start by making sure the main character is a girl, but that’s just me! Was there a certain scene in the book you absolutely loved…if only the author had done this instead? Write it the way you would have done it. You may not be able to use any of this, but follow the rabbit trail. If you change that scene, what else changes? Keep going and you may eventually find you’ve created a whole new story. I want to reiterate, plagiarism is bad! But take inspiration where you can get it.
One last one! Sometimes all it takes is a phrase or a sentence. Something you just like the sound of. I read a book about a girl trying to save her family home, a crumbling castle. I finished the book, opened a word document, and wrote this sentence:
I live in a castle.
For some reason, I tend to start writing in first person, present tense, and end up writing in third person past tense. I’m weird. Anyway, I had the mysterious ‘I’ describe the castle a bit. Then tried to figure out who ‘I’ was. The princess? Nah, not feeling it. A servant? Cliché. So my next sentence was written.
I’m not the princess or a servant. No, I’m the castle…
In an effort to figure it out, I started listing everyone who might be in a castle. Guess what I went with! The castle cat. Yep, ‘I’ was a cat. And from that first short sentence, a trilogy was born. Crazy!
So keep an ear out. Sometimes you hear or think of something that would make a wonderful first sentence. I didn’t keep any of the stuff I wrote at first, but doesn’t matter, I had the idea. And make sure you write it down. It is beyond frustrating to come up with a sentence perfectly phrased, then realize you can’t remember the exact wording!
So there you go, some weird ways I came up with story ideas! Stay tuned for my next few posts. I’ll write about some ways to start your stories, end them, and maybe even how you can get through the hardest part, the middle of a story.