Last night I received a good, if not great question about the creative process:
“How do you come across an idea for a narrative, and once started, how do you keep your ideas fresh and interesting to yourself and readers?”
On the high end of the question, my answer is to broaden your horizons. On the low end, my answer is this: CONSUME CONTENT. You have to expose yourself to a great many different ideas, executions of those ideas, and different schools of thought. You have to go outside of your comfort zone and experience things that you would NORMALLY not be interested in.
The reason that I say this is because more often than not when I’ve become inspired, I found my inspiration in a place that I would have never have thought to look for it. Inspiration waits for no man or woman, and shows up when it feels like it. By exposing yourself to a wide variety of content, be it in book form, film, video game or whatever, you’re simply allowing your brain more opportunities for a great idea to strike. I can’t even count how many times I’ve sat down to consume some form of content and say, “Ugh, I absolutely HATE this, but… wait a minute, that just gave me a GREAT idea!”
Keep a fresh, young mind on the inside. Keep yourself in a position to where you are open and WILLING to accept different trains of thought from others. Read things you wouldn’t normally read, watch movies you wouldn’t normally watch, listen to music that you wouldn’t normally listen to, play video games you wouldn’t normally play. It simply comes down to not letting your mind grow “accustomed” to a particular series of thoughts, lest your imagination die off.
The second part of the question was “how do you keep your ideas fresh and interesting to yourself and readers?”
Now, I know that some people are going to moan and groan, but I’m going to quote the bible here. And why not? It’s not filled with as much hyperbole as you might think it is. Belief in God is irrelevant for some of the context presented in the Christian bible, and one thing IS for certain and is verifiable about it: People wrote the bible. Now, the fun part of this is, you win on either end:
- If the Bible is TRUE (as in not metaphorical) then there’s some crazy, amazing stuff in there.
- If the Bible is FALSE (as in completely made up), then there’s some crazy, amazing stuff born of imagination in there.
You can’t really lose by sitting down and reading it, based on one thing: It is a written work that contains a LOT of narrative. It’s also been a best seller for a few thousand years now. Just food for thought.
“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9 King James Version
So, if we’ve established that there’s nothing new under the sun, then what are we to do? I would say the EASIEST way to begin to flex your creative muscle, is to take an old favorite and put a fresh new twist on it. Most things in the world are really just remixes of previous ideas. Take a look at your car; The modern automobile has existed for 100+ years now. But at the end of the day, they are still the same. 4 wheels, a body, a couple of seats, and an engine. You might argue, “But you just argued against your point! Cars have only been around for about 100 years!” If you’re taking it 100% literally, yes. But then, what were automobiles called in the original, primitive state?
They were called a horseless carriage. Or, a carriage, minus the horse. I imagine the brainstorming session was something along the lines of, “Hrm. How can we KEEP the carriage part, but get rid of the horse part?” And the modern car was born. Bear in mind, I’m not a history teacher, but I think my point is made.
So, when you sit down to come up with an idea, DON’T freak out and go “I JUST CAN’T COME UP WITH A NEW, NEVER BEFORE SEEN IDEA! GRAH!” The odds are completely stacked against you to come up with something absolutely fresh. Rather, you should take an existing idea, and see if you can change and tweak it. Everyone started off with the same piece of clay or Play-Doh when they were in school. But if you take a look at the creations of children, by the time they are finished the results are very, VERY different and unique.
Now, I want to be clear on this: This does not mean go out and STEAL PEOPLE’S WORK. That’s not flexing an imagination. That is theft. What I AM saying is, chances are quite high that your broad idea ISN’T original. But I bet that your details ARE. Do you want to write a piece of fiction about people with laser weapons? There are plenty, if not literally THOUSANDS, of books and films in existence that cover that subject. But I’ll tell you this much:
Nobody gets confused when they hear a Star Trek phaser versus a Stormtrooper blaster.
Go and find out how often your idea has been replicated. See where others had shortcomings and build upon that with your own fresh take on it. The more you twist, pull, tug, and work with your idea, sooner or later your work will look NOTHING like what you started with.