Friday, April 5, 2013

What Do I Write Next?

by Jill Williamson

While I'm not done writing all the books I've contracted, I have been thinking about what book I might want to write next. I figure it's good for me to get an idea of what my next big project might be so that I can start thinking about characters and daydreaming a plot.

But how do you decide what to write next? Especially when you so loved your recently completed work in progress. Sometimes it feels like no book could possibly top the one you just finished, and the idea of trying to start fresh is daunting.

Here are a few tips to get the brain working and the ideas sparking.

1. Combine two unrelated things. This is a trick I learned from Stephen King. In his book, On Writing, he uses the example of "murder and mayhem" and "prom" combined to come up with the book Carrie. This is a really clever way to brainstorm. Add to this a trick I learned from fantasy author Brandon Sanderson. Combine the "familiar" with the "strange." So, for example, when you combine those two unrelated things, make one familiar to your readers and one totally weird. Be sure to run these pairings past your cliché-o-meter and your it's-been-done-already-detector. Boarding school might be somewhat normal to readers and being a wizard might be strange, but when you combine boarding school and wizards, we all know why that story wouldn't be the best idea you could come up with.

What ideas can you come up with combining cherries and fire?



2. Ask some "What if ... ?" questions. What if a boy could fly? What if a girl could burrow through the soil like an earthworm? What if a dog spoke English? Your imagination is the limit.



3. This next idea was inspired by Stephanie's post on plot twists. Using the free character downloads from the Go Teen Writers book, combine some archetypes, phobias, hobbies, skills, or traits to come up with some interesting types of people. For example: a painter girl who's afraid to go outside, a priest who rides a Harley Davidson motorcycle, a boy who tells bad jokes ... anything you find interesting and different. Make up five unique characters and write them down on individual index cards.

Next use Georges Polti's 36 plot types and pick five that you like. Write your five down on five separate index cards.

And finally choose five locations. This could be anything from Georgia to Madagascar, from the moon to a made up planet, from a high school cafeteria to a corporate board room. Be creative and varied and write the five locations on separate index cards.

You should have fifteen cards. Now mix and match, choosing one character, one plot, and one setting and see which pairings you like. Then sit down and write a page or two about that pairing. Then do the same for the other four pairings and see if you find a story idea you like. Here's one of mine:



Did you come up with something fun for cherries and fire? What interesting combination did you come up with from tip 3? Also, feel free to share some ways you come up with new story ideas.

We've had some really great writing space photos coming in from you guys. We'll share some of them over the weekend!

28 comments:

  1. Cherries and fire? Er...a girl who is totally addicted to cherries, is injured by a big fire in her house. When she comes home again, she sees nothing is left but the cherrietree (or wherever cherries grow), and although she hsas lost everything, the cherrietree gives her enough hope to continue her life.

    What about that?

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    1. So would I! That's way better than what I came up with.

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  2. That's an interesting idea...I'm not anywhere near the point where I need a new story, but I'll save this post for future use for sure! :)

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  3. I'm the same as Amanda. I have loads of teeny fragments of ideas but need to expand on them. And none of them seem to be combinable *sigh* oh well. At least I'll stay busy ;) Thanks for another amazing post, Jill!

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    1. As long as you're writing, you're doing good. Keep at it!

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  4. Great post! Although my problem is actually writing and finishing the story ideas I have now - the rather detailed, too-lengthy story ideas - this was very helpful. =) I can see how this could be applied not just to start a story, but to continue one. Thanks for the post and God bless!

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    1. Yep, I totally get that. Get those first drafts done!

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  5. Great post, Jill! I normally have far more ideas then I know what to do with. The problem is picking which one is worth spending 65K and a very long time with.
    ~Sarah Faulkner

    www.inklinedwriters.blogspot.com

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    1. I have that problem too, Sarah. I'm so eager to write my newest idea, but I won't let myself until I finish the books I must write.

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  6. I had a problem with this for months and months after I finished my first story. I have lots of premises, but not a lot of ideas that I'll be able to flesh out and make into a real, full-length book. I'll definitely keep this in mind! Thanks!

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  7. How about this:

    A tragic fire ends a family's life. Their house burns down and nothing remains . . . except for a bowl of cherries.

    Everyone says the cherries are cursed and that no one should touch them. The cherries--miraculously--stay fresh and perfect. A girl eats one of the twenty cherries and finds that she can fly. She eats another one and finds that she can turn invisible at will.

    When a dragon threatens to destroy the town that the girl lives in, she knows it's up to her and her cherries to protect the town and everyone she loves.

    That was something I just made up, so it's probably terrible. XD

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    1. I love it! That's so much fun, Magic. File it away for when you need something new to write. :-)

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    2. Thanks! I'm thinking of writing a short story about it. ;)

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  8. I once read a story that I immediately thought of when I saw 'cherries' and 'fire' - it was in a literary kids magazine, and it was about little household dragons that had to be fed special cherries to keep them happy. :D Seeing that made me remember it.

    And I've sometimes come up with an interesting character just by starting out with one character trait/phobia/disorder and then experimenting with it. Most recently, I found out about hypergraphia, which could be called on a basic level 'compulsive journal-keeping'. It interested me, so I thought; 'all the cases we've seen so far have been in modern day. What would it be like for someone with hypergraphia in a fantasy world?' That's how I created the character Tamir, for one of my partially-planned series ideas.

    Also, by opening the archetypes and other dowloads and selecting at random, I got... A traitor, afraid of death, with a talent for music, who is also rather caring. Hm...

    When a tyrant takes over the countryside, it's the heroes that go down fighting him that are remembered, not the minstrel that surrenders without a fight. Samien has lived for years in the court of the much-hated tyrant, keeping himself alive with his clever tongue and talent for music, and has been forgotten by the outside world almost as much as he's given up on it. He knows he is a coward, that he would be dead if anyone from his old life found him still alive.
    So it's rather inconvenient when the tyrant is toppled and he escapes, saving the tyrant's young daughter from the attackers as well. Nobody can know who either of them are; he's been immortalized as a martyr for his supposed death, and she is hated for who her father was.

    ...and that's the limit of my ideas for it for the moment. Guess I should put it in my story-idea file.

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  9. Great post! This was very interesting and extremely helpful!! I will totally use this for sure:)

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  10. I created a whole book idea around a Snapple fact once. The Snapple fact: Bullfrogs don't sleep. Stephen King is a writing God. Any idea from him is worth trying. I actually have more than enough ideas to write to keep me busy for the next two decades. Best of luck picking your next book to write.

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  11. This would be good to do on a regular basis! I didn't just come up with these but I've had them written down, they haven't found they're plot yet.
    - a romance/relationship columnist that's never been on a date
    - am interior designer that's secretly a hoarder
    - some combination of the movie "troop Beverly Hills" and the tv show "felicity" like where the girl follows the guy she's never talked too.

    Those all need fleshing out!

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  12. I did this for my current project.
    What if a government set out to make an ideal government, and two teens were caught believing an "imperfect" religion.
    This story has truly blossomed and has created a very fun book to work on : )

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  13. I would read a book about a motorcycle-riding priest in Paris fighting with a family member... and I normally don't like reading xD

    This is a phenomenal post. Can I keep you? Hahaha.

    Thanks so much!

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  14. Hey, totally unrelated to your post, but have you done any posts on writing series? I'm writing one book and its sequel right now and I'd like to be able to turn it into a series. :)

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  15. Motorcycle-riding priests sound pretty epic.

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  16. That's how I feel about my current WIP. Sometimes I go "I'll never love anything else as much." BUT I've been working on a new idea today, and I'm IN LOVE.

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  17. Hey, I've done something like this. Except I took things I had an interest in or things I've experienced, mixed them up, picked them at random and totally loved the results.It's really cool what you can come up with. :)

    (MJ)

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  18. This is exactly what I do already! I pick stacks of books and movies (at least six or more) that I like certain elements out of (a lot like the cherries + fire thing). Then I mash them together and pull out a new book for me to write. I'm off to refresh the 36 plot ideas, because I'm a bit stuck with my latest book plot. This is a GREAT post!!

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  19. That's awesome! In the future, this will really help me. I always just started out with an idea spark and kinda expanded it until it felt right-ish, and then started writing, no planning or actual forethought involved, but this will be a great thing to try. Thanks for the awesome post!

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  20. Per your advice, I did step number three (since I just happen to be brainstorming for a new book-- very timely post:-) and it was so fun! And the results were great. I was able to fit every result to one of my characters and learn more about them in the process;-) For example, my main character is a bureaucrat (which is PERFECT, since she's a teacher) and afraid of... colors. And yet one of her hobbies is tie-dying. A complex and unique character, by all means!;-)

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  21. This is cool! I recently thought of an idea by combining a servant and a porcelain doll. :D I still have a bunch of ideas at this point before I run out but I will remember this one. ^ ^

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