How I Get Ideas

I often use terms like “brainstorm” when talking about the writing process. Putting words to computer screen only happens if there’s a crapload of activity swarming around in your brain. Whether you’re a pantser or a planner, there needs to be something going on up there before you open a text document. Thinking about your future best-seller is just as important as the physical act of writing it.

So how does an aspiring writer* get the proverbial juices flowing? Where do great ideas come from? (*IMO, the phrase “aspiring writer” is a misnomer. If you create a story, you’re a writer. People should say “aspiring author” in reference to someone who wishes to be published.)

In my limited experience, there are two parts to this answer.

Inspiration

Inspiration can be a good angel or a bad angel. It’s a good angel when you’re really stuck and have no clue what the hell to write. It’s a bad angel when you’re midway through a novel and a shiny new story idea distracts you from a project you’ve been working on for months. We’ll address the positive aspects of inspiration here.

You can harvest ideas from literally anywhere, and I do mean literally. The trick is opening your mind to them. While you’re out in the world, working at your day job, spending time with friends or family, listen to what’s going on around you. The same applies when you read a book or watch TV. My own novel-in-progress combines elements of shows I’ve loved over the years. (Mostly Disney Channel’s So Weird, a show with a permanent place in my heart. There’s also some of the dynamic from  ABC’s Castle, and the premise will probably make people think of X-Files.)

So when you’re not writing, grab on to anything interesting and expand on it in your thoughts. Add a plot line, characters, settings, themes. I picture the process as a Rubik’s Cube, where you have to move all the pieces around until they finally click together. When a scene takes shape (any scene, not necessarily the first one) you’re off and running.

Playing Twenty-Or-More Questions (Or, How to Drag Yourself Out of Writer’s Bock)

This is a technique I use when my surroundings don’t feel particularly inspiring. I’m the type to ask myself the tough questions when things aren’t going right, so I apply this to my writing. It’s also a great way to pull a story idea from thin air.

For starters I’ll ask myself these types of questions:

What do I want to write about? (Can mean anything – person, place, theme.)

What story line would fit that topic?

Which characters would best demonstrate what I want to say?

Am I in the mood to write something light or dark in tone?

Which genre appeals to me right now?

Answering those questions always gets the ball rolling. When I inevitably hit a wall after the first few chapters, the questions become a little more difficult.

Why am I stuck?

If I don’t want to write the next scene, why is that? 

What can I change?

Does this story suck and I haven’t realized it yet? (Ignore that one.)

Where do I want the story to go?

Keep playing the game until something breaks loose. The only way to defeat “writer’s block” is to think long and hard about why you’re not writing.

“To the Extraordinary KB and All My Friends at the 12th.”

I’m not big on network shows these days. In the past I would become a fan, but then they’d let me down for one reason or another. I first watched ABC’s Castle because it was a quirky crime show about a writer. The formula worked for almost five full seasons, so it became one of the few shows I watched every week.

I can pinpoint the change in characterization and story quality to the last few episodes of season 5. Season 6 had some hiccups (remember Alexis’ fruitarian boyfriend Pi?) but I was still on-board after the finale. Okay, Beckett’s Vegas marriage was just bizarre and I personally don’t count that as canon, but the car crash opened up a million interesting possibilities. I was hesitant about season 7 but still looking forward to it.

Then season 7 hit and Castle had become a different show. The scripts made no sense and the characters were acting crazy. It’s one thing to “return to status quo” after a season premiere, but given Castle’s amnesia, it was difficult to buy that they could ignore the crash for weeks at a time. On the other hand, the writing was so terrible when they did bring in the story that I hoped they’d “forget it” completely (forget…amnesia…never mind). I would have been happy with a well-executed story that organically developed over the season. Of course, that didn’t happen. Season 7’s saving grace was the surprisingly-decent (if Scooby-Dooish) just-in-case finale with everyone clinking their glasses at Castle’s dinner.

I watched about two episodes of season 8. After holding on for more than two seasons, I just couldn’t do it anymore. Not only had the quality gone down, the show was no longer about a writer and his muse. It was about a convoluted story arc mixed with “Castle’s crazy theories,” which weren’t as smart and self-aware as they used to be.

Then all hell broke loose when Stana Katic (Beckett) and Tamala Jones (Lanie) were “fired.” Personally I don’t know what to believe. I’ve expressed different opinions on Twitter and tumblr, speculated this and that, but the truth is I have no idea. No one has any idea. We won’t know until a member of the cast writes a tell-all book in a few years. All I knew was, if Beckett died in the finale, I would mourn her even though I didn’t watch new episodes anymore. I would also mourn the show’s legacy and wonder how a great TV couple could have fallen so far. Reruns and even my favorite fanfiction stories would be tough to stomach. This also goes back to quality though, because if the scripts were good, the show would be able to withstand losing a main character. Say what you want about Grey’s Anatomy, but from what I’ve heard that show excels at moving on after a big loss.

So yes, I was relieved when Castle was cancelled. I know people have been tweeting stuff like “be nice because the cast and crew are now out of work,” and I respect that. I also sympathize given my own recent unemployment situation. As a fan, though, I have a right to be relieved that a favorite character won’t be killed off. (Most likely – there’s still a chance producers will use the tragic ending. I have trust issues, okay?) I also can’t help feeling relieved that poor writing won’t continue to ruin this show beyond repair. For me it’s not really about the behind-the-scenes drama. After hearing about Castle’s cancellation today, I’m sad that declining quality killed a show I used to love.