coming up with original story ideas

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mschenk2016

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How do you come up with your ideas? Rather than taking an existing story and putting a fresh spin on it, I'll take elements I like from *5* existing stories, put a spin on all of them, and weave them together. As an example, the movie District 9 begins like The Blair Witch Project with the found footage, but with Borat as the main character. It's like Hotel Rwanda but with literal aliens from outer space. The MC transforms into something else like in The Fly (it even shows him pulling his teeth out), but he doesn't eat people. Then the third act is like Halo, and it ends on a sweet note like E.T. By combining elements from several stories instead of one you can make your stories much more original.
 
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ChaseJxyz

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First off, originality doesn't really mean anything. Every idea has been thought of at some point, you just haven't seen it done yet. When I was younger and first read Eragon I thought it was so original, but I had never read Pern or Earthsea, so I had no idea it was just that stuff but Lord of the Rings-y. The same idea can be executed in so many different ways, you know what they say, the medium is the message, an idea in a movie or a book or a visual novel or an MMO or a mobile puzzle game will hit different because it's being consumed differently. Some of my favorite games can be described as "anime Saw" but they're so much more than that because of how you interact with the story and how you approach the themes. So I don't worry about "originality" anymore since, ultimately, it's the execution that really matters.

I have ADHD so most of my ideas just...happen. I am never at a loss for ideas, but I only have so much time/bandwidth to develop so many. They usually spawn as "what ifs": what if it only rained once a year? what if a unicorn lost her job because of the gig economy? what if each city had a spirit that personified it and they're forced to deal with growing globalization? what if emperor norton actually became an emperor? They might get triggered by something I'm doing (like if I'm walking around San Francisco, I might see the {Salesforce} Transbay Terminal and remember that there's a plaque in there honoring "emperor" Norton, man that guy was something, wouldn't it be funny if he actually became an emperor somehow?) or randomly. What I write is mostly speculative fiction, which fits perfectly into these concepts, but I also write a decent bit of fanfiction, too, and they also tend to be based on what ifs, but whatever is the funniest/stupidest/most dramatic (what if they were on a terrible reality show, what if I shipped the most toxic characters together etc).
 

Maryn

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I seem to lean toward playing What If with my actual life or with ideas I see in other books, movies, etc.

So I'm waiting in line at the sandwich place, and I'm all What If? What if the sandwich maker in back decides a little mold doesn't matter and my sandwich makes me sick? Or she puts a half tab of LSD in it? Or I wave a thank-you to the folks in back and the dude comes out to tell me no one has thanked him in a decade? Or what if the sandwich chef is not actually human? Or they hide stolen merchandise in the bag because they hear sirens coming closer?

You can go on and on with What If, and 95% of the ideas will be pretty stupid, leaving a decent percentage worth thinking about.

Maryn, who occasionally sells a What If
 

Introversion

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I write SF&F. Many of my ideas are sparked by odd science articles. Sometimes by posting about them in sites like AW, and the conversations and free-associations that ensue.

For example: My WIP novel was sparked by an archeology article about ancient tea samples unearthed in a Chinese emperor's tomb. I posted about it on AW. Someone asked, "I wonder if you could still brew it? And what would it taste like?" I said, dust and despair probably. But it got me thinking. What if, in a fantasy setting, tea didn't just get stronger as it aged, but got weirder? Century-old tea gets you drunk. Five centuries and it spontaneously bursts into flame upon contact with water. What if millenial tea were dug up, sealed and dry, and dropped into the sea? Would it end the world?

My novel's plot is going in a different direction, but that initial free-association got me going in a useful direction.

Another example: I once got in a conversation about unusual hats throughout history. I said I wanted to write a story where social status was signaled by how tall your hat was, until they became ludicrously unwieldy to wear. I never sold the short story inspired by that conversation, but I rather loved writing it. "The Empress' New Hat" was told from the POV of a hat master craftsman who worked his way up society by building innovative and ever-taller hats for wealthy patrons, until he came to the attention of the Empress who commissioned him to construct an impossibly tall hat. He succeeded, sort of, though it brought him ruin and exile...

This is how I spend bathroom time, or can't-sleep-toss-and-turn time. ;)
 

Maggie Maxwell

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A lot of mine come from dreams or daydreams and often start as little more than a scene or premise. Often, I can take two completely separate dreams/concepts and end up combining them into what becomes an entire plotline. A few have come from prompts, or a line in a song that hits the right way, or slamming [Famous novel] together with "in space" and seeing what comes out.
 

Erinell

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Mine turn up when I'm out walking in complete solitude, slowly forming the classic three-act: protagonist must [struggle] in order to [goal/objective] and consequently [resolution]. For me this is the most challenging aspect of story design and it can take days of editing and revising.
 
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Cephus

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There's no such thing. There is nothing original under the sun. It's all been done before in one form or another. Take your inspirations where you can, mix them together and make it your own. If you're looking for originality though, you're just wasting your time.
 
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Introversion

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There is nothing original under the sun.
If you want to argue that every plot slots into one of man v man, man v nature, man v self, then okay.

But that’s a bit reductive, isn’t it? Before Melville wrote Moby Dick, how many obsessive whale-hunting novels had been published? Before Shelley wrote Frankenstein, how many novels about scientists reanimating corpses? To Kill A Mockingbird was merely another story about the injustices of the American legal system for blacks in the Deep South; dime a dozen, was it?
 

stephenf

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I tend to just write anything that is in my head. Usually, it's a mix of books I have read, parts of my own life and anything else I can think of.
 

kinokonoronin

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Am I the only one who has no idea where all the premises I use come from?

I have such an enormous glut of ideas that it never even occurs to me to think about where they come from. I have too many already, and am not trying to produce more. All my mental energy goes into learning how to execute better (after all, I haven't written a good story yet, as far as I know).
 
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Ellis Clover

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Titles are often my entry point into a story. I find it much easier to keep a story on track if I already have a sort of anchor holding the concept in place, which is how a title operates for me. Too much brain freedom makes me anxious.

In terms of developing the story itself - I mean, who knows how that happens? Lol. I certainly don't borrow consciously from existing works, but I consume a lot of media in lots of genres and also have a huge, ever-expanding file of 'snippets' (dialogue, vignettes and character studies mostly) that I've been collecting for years, so I feel surrounded by creative triggers. Working in advertising, too, for the last 7 years has helped me to refine new ideas a lot more quickly and efficiently than I once could.
 

Umbriel

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How do you come up with your ideas? Rather than taking an existing story and putting a fresh spin on it, I'll take elements I like from *5* existing stories, put a spin on all of them, and weave them together. As an example, the movie District 9 begins like The Blair Witch Project with the found footage, but with Borat as the main character. It's like Hotel Rwanda but with literal aliens from outer space. The MC transforms into something else like in The Fly (it even shows him pulling his teeth out), but he doesn't eat people. Then the third act is like Halo, and it ends on a sweet note like E.T. By combining elements from several stories instead of one you can make your stories much more original.

Originality is a bit of a poisoned term in my book (see what I did there?) because it implies something independent, standalone. A concept that doesn't need support from anywhere else. As has been said elsewhere, I think that's impossible to achieve. We've been writing as a species, creatively, for a very long time and almost everything's already been cooked up in somebody's head, somewhere.

That doesn't mean a new spin, a new angle, doesn't make it worth exploring again. Besides, you can drive yourself mad looking for something nobody's done before. Might never find it, or worse, find it and then find out it isn't as original as you think ...
 

neandermagnon

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I agree with everyone who said there's no such thing as an original idea. What makes a story original and unique is you. I recently wrote a similar thing on another thread somewhere - it was about other writers beating you to an idea - but I can't remember where.

Pretty much everyone's already read Harry Potter, but there's another popular series (at least in the UK, not sure if it went global or not) called The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy that starts off with the same basic concept - children go to a magical school to learn to be witches/wizards - but the two series couldn't be more different from each other. It's not the idea that makes a story what it is, but everything else the writer puts into the story - the actual work. Some writers think to themselves "if only I'd come up with the idea of a boy wizard going to wizarding school and I'd have been as successful as Rowling" but it really doesn't work like that at all. This kind of thinking also neglects all the hard work that goes into worldbuilding, character development, carefully structuring the plot, foreshadowing, etc etc etc. It takes a lot of hard work and effort to make a really gripping story. An idea is just a starting point.

I don't have a technique for developing ideas. They may occur to me randomly and just kind of get stuck in my head until I want to write a story about it, or it comes from something I'm already extremely interested in (e.g. my palaeolithic fiction). This process has been very different for each story. I don't tend to try to find an idea, more like the idea is already there and it just wants to be written.
 
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Shirokirie

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How do you come up with your ideas?
I've given this a lot of thought. While I've known for years just how deeply ignorant I am of entertainment and media, and deliberately so, I sat here giggling that at least my ideas feel like they're mine. If that's not the epitome of what 'original' feels like, I don't care what is, because this feels fine to me. :ROFLMAO:

The source, tho? How could I possibly take credit? But the abstract mind of an eccentric individual is a chest of miscellaneous items indeed.~
 
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owlion

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My ideas just tend to appear at random. I get a lot of them very regularly, but not all of them are the right sort of idea to write a whole novel about, so I tend to jot them down and see if I can incorporate them into something at a later date (and some are perfect for full novels, but I just don't want to write about them at the time, so they go into the notebook too).

I think a big part of getting inspiration for me is absorbing a lot of very different media - I play video games, look at art, read every day etc. and those things work to 'refresh' my brain. When you're constantly trying to produce creatively, you can run out of inspiration and burn out, but keeping my brain refreshed has meant that I get a steady influx of ideas.
 
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Chris P

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I get ideas from all over the place. Sometimes, I experience something in life I think would, if embellished, make a cool story. Other times it starts with reading a story that I thought would go one way but went another, so I write the story I thought the other writer was going to tell. Also, more than just a few stories are inspired by song lyrics (even if the song was in no way about the story it inspired).

I remain in constant readiness to be inspired and amazed.
 
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