Ideas are everywhere. But sometimes, it can feel like our brains are blank, and we’ve got absolutely nothing. Sometimes, we’re too burnt out to come up with any idea, let alone a good one. We’re simply too tired. Or we have a tendency to set sky-high expectations and criticize ourselves the entire time.
This is when fun prompts and exercises can help. It’s especially helpful to have a collection of prompts and exercises at your disposal. You can keep them inside your notebook, a shoebox, in a Word file or in your Evernote. This way they’re available precisely when you need them.
Denise Jaden’s book Story Sparks: Finding Your Best Story Ideas & Turning Them into Compelling Fiction is packed with excellent tips, tricks and insights. Below are some of my favorites, which you can add to your toolbox.
Pay close attention to people. Open your eyes to the individuals all around you. Pay attention to how they sit and stand. Pay attention to the colors they’re wearing. Pay attention to any quirks in body language or facial expressions. Imagine these individuals as kids and teens. Imagine who they will be and what they’ll look like in 10, 20 or 30 years.
Pay close attention to places. Focus on your environment. Focus on it as though it’ll become a setting in your novel. Imagine what a place will look like in 50 years. Imagine what it looked like when the buildings were brand new. Imagine what the place looks like during different times of the day. Pretend you’re a photographer, and focus on something in the background. Then consider why you picked this feature and what’s so unique or interesting about it.
Talk to your friends. “Ask them what interesting things have happened lately or what is the most interesting thing that’s ever happened to them,” Jaden writes. Or ask a friend to give you a character prompt—like a name or trait. Then write the prompt in the center of your page, and jot down everything that comes to mind around it.
Create an imaginary life for someone. For instance, observe a store clerk or restaurant server. Remember their name. When you get home, write down what you imagine their life to look like.
Ask “what if?” about everything. When Jaden has a story idea, she likes to ask: “What if things got worse? And worse yet? Then how could they become worse still?” For instance, she suggests exploring these prompts: What if it didn’t stop raining for over a year? How would this affect the landscape? How would it affect people’s attitudes and how they lived? What if someone was 7 feet tall? How would that affect their life? What conflicts and benefits would they experience?
(As I wrote in yesterday’s piece, you also can use your own worries and fears to inspire a story or character’s concerns.)
Think of these prompts as playing. I think one of the biggest obstacles to creativity (and writing) is that we take it very seriously, too seriously. We end up feeling overwhelmed, which only paralyzes us. And we judge anything we put on the page, which means we don’t put anything.
Forget the pressure and judgment, and simply experiment. Have fun with these prompts—whether anything materializes from them or not.