Generating ideas for adventures

15 11 2009

Coming up with ideas for adventures by widening your horizons

Just where do you get ideas?

I will admit to being something of a dog with a bone on this subject.  I know it causes more hardship than any other for GMs and so I will publish whatever I can think of on the subject – in the hope it will help.

I have met many published authors and read interviews with countless more. As I’ve said in the past, most of them will confirm that being asked about where to get ideas from is the most common question.

Many aspiring writers no doubt hope that the famous author will provide them with a web address – or book title – that will mean never having to think up an idea themselves again.

Of course, successful authors (or adventure writers) don’t have a secret place they go to find new ideas. Most writers I’ve heard can’t even tell you where they find inspiration – it just happens they say.

Coming up with the idea is only part of the battle.  If you give two writers the same suggestion, they’ll provide quite different adventures. Give a published writer the same idea and they’ll produce a much better quality adventure.

So what magic ingredient separates mere mortals from the published greats? At this point, I’ll concede that I don’t believe there is a writing course out there that can turn a poor writer into a great one. It’s an inherent talent.

Having said that, I believe that with the proper guidance, most GMs can produce better adventures – although I still can’t agree on one magic ingredient. I think it’s a potion and all the aspects of writing go into that potion.

I’m going to go off at a tangent now, but I’ll get back on track on coming up with ideas before the end.

I listen to a lot of podiobooks and writing podcasts. It’s a close community. I also frequent many of the forums. In addition, I am an avid reader of ‘How to Write’ books.

One piece of advice always comes through loud and clear – in order to be a decent writer, you must read. Every source I ever reference says this.

So I was looking at an aspiring author’s blog the other day and there was a link to their Amazon wish list. As I’m always looking for new authors to ‘discover,’ I clicked on it. I have read works by half of the writers and had heard of about a further quarter.

What struck me – and produced a genuine ‘light bulb’ moment – was that I thought to myself, “You sure can tell what type of book this author wants to write.”

It was as simple as that.

When I’ve read blogs or interviews from successful authors, they say something quite different. For most of them, only a fraction of the books they read are within their genre. One even said they never read the competition. Many list non-fiction as their chief source of reading, and most follow the recommended ‘good books’ and classics, regardless of the section of literature it comes from.

So now I can finish the detour and bring us back on the original path. Poor writers don’t read much. Decent writers read a lot – but tend to focus on their genre. The good writers are the ones that read widely.  And for writers, please read adventure writers.  Plus, I’d be surprised if any GMs don’t also read.

So, aspiring adventure writer – take a look at your book collection.

A few of you will have a wide selection, but I’m guessing the majority tend to read within a much narrower range (and you can include sourcebooks as well as conventional published works). It’s understandable.

Many aspiring writers (adventures or otherwise) started out as readers and wanted to add to the body of work they enjoyed reading. And most readers tend to have favourite genres rather than an eclectic taste.

So, if you want to become a better adventure writer, start acting like a published author and read outside your chosen genre – especially non-fiction.

Which brings me back to my original point. If you only read within your genre, your stimulation for new ideas is dampened. You’ll find yourself reworking plots from the books you read and you’ll discard them as being too like this novel or that short story.

If you read more widely, you’ll pick up inspiration from plots (or factual topics) outside your genre – which in turn will allow your creative juices to ponder, ‘what if…’

Now I’m not advocating plagiarism, but instead pointing out that reading non-fiction and new genres will inspire you in a way that your tried and trusted field never can.

And it will improve your story-telling ability too. As a good example, many aspiring adventure writers will have to include romance in their story at some point, but how many have read good novels from this specific genre? I’ll not ask for a show of hands.

So try reading some books that you wouldn’t usually read. It will seem strange at first, but you do want to come up with new ideas, don’t you?

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