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How to Choose an Idea for your Story

Advice Blog 3 Apr 24 by Lorenzo Samuel, author of speculative fiction writings.

In a previous advice blog, I discussed how to make a plot enthralling. For this issue of the blog, I will go over how I choose an idea for a story.

By idea for a story, read theme or controlling idea. By theme, let us mean a repeating, unifying concept or motif. It is a controlling idea in that the characters, plot and setting, forward, cement and pertain to the concept behind the story.

Another viewpoint could be that which the reader remembers long after she or he has forgotten the details of the characters, plot and setting, perhaps even the outcome, resolution or denouement. Thus, the theme is important. If it is not the reason for writing the story, it shines through when the story is complete.

The author might not be aware of the theme while writing the story. She or he may focus solely on characters and plot. The theme shines through. Why? The voice of the author (how she or he expresses things) tells the tale.

The author believes certain things consciously or unconsciously. These things come out in the story. Ideas for a story happen similarly. They will comprise the theme.

So, how do I get the idea for a story? “Prompts” is the short answer. Something tweaks my imagination. Perhaps, I’m reading a story by another author. I’m reading along, and some twist or reversal occurs in the story. I ask myself, “but what if….”? And there is the idea.

I could be reading a news article, listening to someone speaking, reading non-fiction or a memoir, listening to music, seeing a person go by, watching some phenomena or reading out of my genre. I have thousands of ideas every day. So do you. That’s a human trait. We’re idea factories.

Out of these numerous ideas I have each day, how do I choose one to start me off writing a story? Here’s an idea from a “what if” question I posed to myself recently: Instead of alien (evil, strange, different or unnatural) traits what if I created aliens with emotional reactions just like human’s experience? From there my imagination flowed into character and plot, a novella featuring characters who were sentient beetles in interesting situations like people might have.

Our current reality is not the only reality possible. Ideas are not limited by the current reality. Suppose bugs could talk like people do? What if our oxygen level dropped by 5%? Suppose heaven fell to earth? What if two evenly matched races went to war? What if humans were not the top of the food chain? Suppose the older one got, the faster they were? What if an intelligent race was found at the center of the earth? What if one’s nostrils were in his back? I could spend all day coming up with what-if questions (ideas).

Were someone to ask me where I got the idea that ended up in my short story “The Illusion Dress,” I would have to say that I asked myself what if people on another planet controlled the development of us on earth. That would be close to the theme of the story. How about characters and plot and setting? As I wrote that story, hundreds of ideas came into play relating to those story parts. The accurate question would be where did you get the hundreds of ideas that ended up in your story.

The answer is imagination. I do not reject offhand what it tells me. The hard part is not getting the idea. Recognize that any idea could be the basis for a story. The harder task is putting the idea into story form.

Check back for the next issue of the Advice Blog.

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

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