How to Cultivate Great Story Ideas

By: Minda Burr

How do you develop an idea? Where do you even begin if you don’t know what you want to write next? So, I am going to ask you SIX KEY questions, and I want you to answer them from your from your heart and soul – from your gut – instead of from your conscious mind, because that is where you have access to your own unique ‘authentic voice’.

  1. The most obvious question – What do you feel passionate about? What is genuinely interesting to you? And if you’re writing a screenplay, novel or stage play — what characters would you like to dive into, live inside, talk like and behave like for awhile? You are going on an adventure and a personal journey with these characters, so you might as well enjoy yourself. What we are emotionally connected to, we are much more committed to. Obviously Nora Ephron was intrigued by the dance of Love between charming, intelligent and witty characters for example, in “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless in Seattle” – while the Cohen Brothers preferred to swim in dark waters with deviant characters in “Fargo” and No Country for Old Men”. What water do YOU want to swim in??
  2. Are you a great observer of life and the “human condition”? Does it fascinate you to the point that you start conjuring up scenarios about where Life might be going? Suzanne Collins did a brilliant job of that in the “Hunger Games.” She took two somewhat disturbing trends in our society today and exaggerated them in the future in a fascinating way: First, she takes the ever widening gap in our society of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, and catapults us into a future where the rich are now living outrageously opulent and SELF-indulgent lives in separate cities! They now live far, FAR AWAY from the deprived poor who live in concentration camps and are forced to hunt for their own food to survive. In the second current trend, she highlights our society’s obsession with ‘reality shows’ and takes us into a future where the most popular entertainment for the rich is watching the poor people stalk and kill each other. Then the victors become media sensations just like the Kardashians are today! Fascinating.

    QUESTION: Is there something that YOU see in the future that could be the natural outcome of what the way we are living now?

  3. Are you FUNNY? Do people think you are witty and they laugh a lot when they are your presence? If you can do it in person, you can put it on paper. If you are funny that is GOLD – do not squander your talent. And you have SO many arenas in which to cultivate it.
  4. Are you able to laugh at the ironies of life and how incredibly idiotic we are sometimes as members of the human race? Nobody does that better than Larry David did with “Seinfeld” and now “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. He has such a UNIQUE and interesting slant on everyday reality and he writes such flawed characters in mundane and sometimes ridiculous circumstances, that he allows us to laugh at ourselves for being human. If you have that gift, SHARE it.
  5. What knowledge or EXPERTISE do you have that is worth entertaining other people with? Look at what a Law career did for John Grisham and his series of best-selling books that became big movies, like “The Firm” and “A Time to Kill?” What expertise do you have that could be the foundation for a great idea?? It doesn’t matter if you’re a former bronco bull rider or a reformed sex addict – there could be ‘Gold in them there hills.’
  6. “Seemingly” OUT OF NOWHERE GEMS. What ideas have popped into your head out of nowhere and made you think, “This would be a great story or topic!” Pay attention to those! Those ideas out of nowhere are your heart and soul talking to you. They can also come from the Collective UN-conscious. Which means, that if you don’t write about, it someone else WILL. When those moments of inspiration happen – write them down immediately or call yourself and leave a detailed message. Or get one of those recording devices. Don’t assume you’re going to remember it because you most likely won’t. Inspiration comes in a FLASH – and is often gone like a puff of smoke if you don’t record it.