3 Types of Writing Ideas (and How to Find a Great One)

Last time, we talked about setting aside time for writing and priming your imagination with writing prompts.

Whether your story is about a dark, dystopian future, tangling with the mob, or sitting at the University of Winnipeg writing blog posts, you’re going to go through a lot of bad ideas.

Bad Ideas

“How do I know when an idea is bad (or good for that matter)?”

Good question, reader. Well, the easiest ones to filter are the purely bad ones. Those ideas are not very interesting to you, and by extension, you won’t be able to make them interesting to anyone else. This seems obvious, but more than once I’ve spent time trying to force a bad idea into a story.

(Seemingly) Good Ideas

Next come the ideas that seem good. These are initially very interesting but lose their shine after a few words, sentences, or even pages. “Good” ideas are tricky, and I know this because most Hollywood movie fare is comprised of just such ideas.

I’ll use the movie The Accountant as an example: a troubled genius accountant falls in love with a beautiful girl and takes on cartels with lots of guns. Sure, it’s flashy, and maybe we want to be that troubled-but-badass guy who gets the girl, but is it interesting?

A good way to tell is to see where the story goes later on. I can watch nearly any movie for the first half hour and be interested. Who knows where it could go, right? There’s so much potential in those first few minutes, but then they go downhill (check the bottom of this review of The Accountant for an example).

My theory (which is strengthened every time I go to the theatre or library) is that if you try to take a flashy idea and make it into a story, you’ll run into issues tying it up at the end. You’ll resort to cheap tactics like plot twists, or worse, you’ll write in awful leaps of logic to get where you wanted to go and hope no one notices (if you want an excellent example, check here).

So how does one determine whether an idea is good? Not only have we thrown out bad ideas, but we’re also discounting ones that seem flashy and pique interest immediately. What’s left?!

Great Ideas

A great idea will come up like a little blip on the radar. It’s gonna be innocuous and it won’t seem flashy, but you’ll get a good feeling from it. Every great idea I’ve had hasn’t given me the same sort of rush as novelty (guns, sex, intrigue) does.

When you find a great idea, the first reaction is something like, “Huh, that’s interesting.” With Love Drug, it was the premise, but then the characters became more fascinating. Then the world surrounding them, and the politics of pharmaceuticals… When you find your great idea, you’ll feel like you’ve found the rabbit hole.

When you try to write about your great idea, it won’t be a chore. It won’t be difficult to figure out what the next scene is and you’ll stop dreading word count goals.

Although you might be in awe of your great idea, other people might think it’s weird, or silly, or just not interesting. Do not be surprised by this. Strip down any classic piece of literature to its basic premise and you’ll have something that sounds strange or boring to write about.

Your idea may be really mundane, or personal, or even just odd, but that’s the exciting part of it. Your job now is to make other people see your idea the way you do. Carve the excess marble from around your sculpture, so to speak.

The punchline of all this is that you don’t need to stress about finding a good idea for a twist, or a new fantasy world, or the sexiest thing you can imagine. You need to find an idea that’s the most you and take it from the depths of your mind to the page. The only thing between you and that goal is practice – something we’ll deal with next time.

Until then, leave me a comment about your successes and failures in the search for great ideas!

Image Source: Luis Beltrán

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