Monday, November 21, 2011

Where I Find Story Ideas

I'm often asked how I come up with story ideas. Actually, people usually ask, "Where do you come up with these weird ideas?"

I rarely have a shortage of ideas. Since I write horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction, my version of story creation usually involves taking a prompt/headline/situation and asking:

1) What is the worst or weirdest thing that could happen with this?

2) How could this threaten humans/humanity?

3) How could an alien race use this to their advantage?

Prompts are great for story creation, you just have to twist them around to the kind of writing you like to do. For example, this prompt from Toasted Cheese prompt calendar:

Write a story or poem based on an old wives' tale

The first old wives tale that popped into my head, I hate to say, is the one boys were told when I was younger: you'll get hairy palms if you self-gratify (do they still use this old wives tale?). So let's say the old wives tale is true. How will that affect the dating world? Will someone invent a pill to make it stop? Or will a whole new salon-industry develop catering to men's special shaving needs? Does it happen to women, too? This would make a great comedy-fantasy!

Or how about this one (the origin of which I've forgotten):

A cross-country train trip opens your eyes to another way of life.

Maybe the train rider meets hobos and decides to become a drifter. Maybe the hobos are really vampires. Our rider still decides to join up with them. Or maybe the hobos are a superior race of being, the "parents" of all humanity, and they've gotten so fed up with how badly we've turned out they've given up on us and are all now living a simple, unfettered life away from their disappointing children

News & Headlines
Sometimes I uses headlines and news articles. Like this one:

Butt Injection with Fix-A-Flat Leads to Arrest

There are lots of stories with this one! Maybe there's a new product call "Fix-Your-Flats" that's a home breast-enhancement product. Or maybe there's a whole seedy underground of "MacGyver-like" body enhancements and augmentations. Or maybe an unintended consequence of this sort of body modification is that the people who have it done begin to mutate (or turn into zombies) thanks to these foreign chemicals being injected.

Or I use nature-related articles. Like this one:

Seaweed's Chemical Weapons Killing Corals

Sound familiar? Change it to "Plants" Chemical Weapons Killing "People," and you've got the premise for the movie The Happening.

Or how about this one:

New Life-Forms Found at Bottom of Dead Sea

Hmm. What kind of life forms? Maybe a new parasite that gets a taste for humans and is inadvertently transported to a larger body of water where it thrives? Or maybe a nice, highly-contagious microbe that starts a world-wide pandemic (especially since we'll have zero immunity, since the thing has just been floating around in the bottom of the water for eons). You can get lots of great stories out of this one!

Mashup Situations
And sometimes I use mashups, taking a normal, everyday situation and putting in a horror character as the protagonist. A lot of my comedy falls in this category. For example:

A vampire having a "mid-life" crisis;

A zombie forced to take a job at a large retailer;

Satan trying to learn how to use social media.

What kind of soccer mom (or hockey mom) would a werewolf be? What if Bigfoot's stock portfolio tanked and he had to go get a job instead of living his life of leisure in the big woods? What if your company was bought out by another and your new boss was a Harpy . . . literally?

Stories are all around us. The key is to take a kernel--a prompt, a headline, a situation--and let your imagination run wild.

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