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Getting Story Ideas

Advice Blog 3 Jul 24 by Lorenzo Samuel, author of speculative fiction writings. Let’s see how one puts story ideas to work.

You have had a brainstorm, an idea so original and powerful that it will shake to flinders anyone who reads it. You develop your main character so that she or he embodies this idea. This protagonist becomes that idea walking so to speak.

Into your story steps the antagonist. Somewhere you have read that the antagonist must be overwhelmingly powerful (smart, clever, devious, etc.) and threaten the idea or the protagonist until she or he is overcome at the climax to your story. Result? Your idea dominates, wins the day.

Your antagonist does her or his job; your plot electrifies. Your protagonist could win an Oscar. Yet, the story falls as flat as a punctured souffle.

Why? Too bad, your story has a disease. It is as sick as black death. It has theme-itis. OMG, spare us the horror. Fortunately, we have a cure: Shelve that idea, send it to the Salomon Islands.

“Whoa!” you say. “That idea, that theme, is the reason for writing the story. It’s what enlivens the tale, gives me reason to struggle on.”

Okay, I got that. Deep-6 it still. By sending the idea to oblivion, you will not have condemned it, said it was worthless, denied its importance. No, no. You would have said to it, “You have an honored seat at the Queen’s Jubilee! Hide there and do not come forth. Watch me work the magic to reveal you such that thousands of readers will not miss your coming.”

The reason for this is straightforward and practical. Most readers will not pick up your story to hear you preach, no matter how great your idea and theme are. A theme should not stand out like a neon light. Unlike this blog, a story is not an essay.

Here is an important aspect to character development. Just as you have 100s of ideas a day, so your character should have multitudes of them. Bore your reader to death by going overboard though. She or he will lay your story down if the protagonist has too many. You can allude to a character having lots of ideas without detailing them all. However, your controlling idea should be one among equals of several ideas, all competing to be the chosen one, the one that saves the day.

The more hidden the controlling idea the better. It can be buried in the character’s mind and only displayed through action. Let us say that the controlling idea is that one should keep his or her word unless more harm would come to more people and projects by doing so. Your character worries about this problem, should her word be kept or broken? The character’s decision will drive home the theme without the controlling idea being mentioned.

Have faith in your readers. Give them the right to reason out your idea, to reject it or to accept it or even to misunderstand it. Rather than slavishly agreeing with you, give them the task of working it out for themselves.

Above all, entertain them. By making this your prime job, they will more likely come to your point of view and, what’s more, they will find that you have given them pleasure and want to read other stories that you have written.


 In the next issue of the blog, I’ll discuss another point you should incorporate into your stories.


  You can order my recent book of short speculative fiction by clicking here.

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