Thinking of Ideas

© 2008 Daniel Arenson

I occasionally hear young writers say, “I’m great at starting novels and stories, but after I write a few pages, I run out of steam and out of ideas. How can I learn to finish my stories?”

Here are some tips for how to stay inspired, even when writing a lengthy novel.

Write Anything

Before musicians begin to play, they tune their instruments. Before painters begin to paint, they scribble quick sketches. We writers also sometimes need to get into gear. It’s tough to sit down and immediately produce brilliant prose. Often it helps to just start writing--anything. Don’t worry if your first few pages are mediocre, even nonsensical. Force yourself to write, jotting down anything that fills your mind, even if it’s unrelated to the story. Writing these first few pages can get you brainstorming and kick-start your muse. You can always discard these pages later, and keep the good stuff you produce once you’re warmed up.

Move Backwards

When you first envision the concept for your story, write the ending early. You can even write it first. That way, as you write your way through the middle, you’ll know where you’re heading. You can even write the story backwards, if you have trouble moving forward.

Use Diagrams

You’ve written the beginning, maybe even the end. Time for the middle, and you’re stuck. What should happen next? To brainstorm, draw diagrams. Don’t use the computer; use a pen and paper and scribble freely. Try to imagine what the next few plot “high points” will be. High points can be major events in your story, such as murders, revelations, and deaths. On your paper, draw a square for every high point. Draw a circle for each character. Then use arrows to connect the shapes. Each arrow will represent an action the characters take, connecting all the components. As you scribble, ideas will appear and flesh themselves out. Soon you’ll find yourself ready to start writing again.

Let the Characters Decide

You’ve tried all the above, and you still don’t know what should happen next in your story. Try asking your characters. If you’ve created in-depth, three-dimensional characters, they’ll have motivations and passions, loves and hatreds. In good fiction, characters are rarely laid back, aimless souls with no troubles; they are driven by intense needs or wants. So ask yourself: what would these characters do at this point of the story? If you’ve created the characters properly, they’ll know where to go. So let them go there. You just write what happens.

If after all this, you’re still stuck, maybe your work-in-progress is the wrong story for you. Sometimes stories sound great in concept, but don’t work in practice. You can always come up with a better idea and start over.

Good luck!

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