Coming up with original adventure ideas (Part 2)

29 09 2009

IdeasSo how do you come up with original ideas?

Stephen King says this is the question that authors get asked more than anything else. And they never have a good answer. The truth that I can glean from reading this question posed to so many different writers and designers is that we’re asking the wrong question.

They get ideas from the simplest of places. They take the advice I’m going to share. OK, they don’t take the advice directly from me, but they follow the principles. That’s why I’ve listed them.

Many of my ideas come from reading a novel or adventure outline or watching a film or TV and predicting what could happen next. When the plot goes in a different direction to the one I ‘predicted’, I reach for my ideas book.

My version becomes an original idea. It seems the key to coming up with good ideas is twofold.

If a writer you meet ever gets stumped when asked the question, ‘Where do ideas come from?’ you can prompt them with the following: 

  1. You have to be looking for them
  2. You need to be able to remember them

I don’t think it’s any cleverer than that. I must admit that if you are looking for them and can’t see them, then perhaps a creative writing career is not for you. Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere but ideas aren’t stories or adventures. Using an idea and turning it into a campaign typically revolves around two words.

What if…

These are the two most powerful words for a writer looking for ideas. I’ve just opened Yahoo! News and looked at the first news item:

‘Philippines pleas for international help to cope with flood aftermath’

It’s a serious news story and I in no way am going to trivialise it, but it’s as good a starting spot as any other.  From a fantasy perspective, consider a town or region suffers from a devastating flood: 

  • Why did it happen?
  • What if…it wasn’t a natural occurrence?
  • What if…it was orchestrated by someone?
  • What if…it was part of a larger plot?
  • What if…it was part of a plan to hold the town/region to ransom?
  • What if…it was the act of terrorists – looking to bring down the region’s economy?
  • What if…it was the act of a cult – looking to raise a demon associated with water?
  • What if…it was an elaborate smokescreen to cover up activity somewhere else?
  • What if…it was an elaborate smokescreen to kill a single person?

OK, that’s focussed on the cause. You could consider the event from an individual’s point of view. What if:

  • …this caused the death of a hero on his way to save someone/something?
  • …this caused a man to go home early and find…?

Hopefully you get the message.

I’m not going to expand any of these into an adventure today, but I’ll be surprised if one day I don’t remember this little exercise and use the broad facts in some way. It’s already been entered into my ‘Ideas’ notebook.

For others, the story idea comes from a person or a place. The image of that person or setting is so powerful it demands to be expanded until it forms into a story.

Many writers start with a small idea and the plot takes over as they are writing.

Some people use literary influences. Remember, you can’t copyright ideas, only words. This brings me the next point – but you’ll have to wait until my next blog…

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