Written by Sarah Yoon
People often ask me how I come up with story ideas. It’s a funny question to answer, because I’m the slowest creative I know. My friends outline entire plots in one day from an idea that they came up with that week. For them, it’s natural. For me, it’s a grueling process. I build my story bit-by-bit, adding one puff plot generation or character formation at a time.
Stumbling through the Dark
Maybe you’re asking because you’re like me; you’re wandering in the dark, wondering when dawn will come. Nothing new—or at least usable—has come up for months. One useful way to deal with the dark is to keep an inspiration journal.
Inspiration journals are like the sketchbooks that artists carry around with them 24/7. When they discover a unique image or an interesting concept, they draw it out and scribble a few notes for later reference. When their muses turn out the lights and head home, they’ve got a buffer of interesting material to pull from.
When you find muse-worthy inspiration, catch it. Jot your ideas down before they disappear and let them glow like fireflies in a bottle. If they’re truly worth preserving, they’ll keep bouncing around, waiting to escape into your story. Don’t worry about the ideas that aren’t worth keeping. Their lights will blink out and they’ll asphyxiate, leaving the best ideas glowing brightly.
You might recognize these bits of lightning as akin to the metaphoric light bulb. Keep your eyes open and you might glimpse a person in the midst of the sparks. She runs across a deserted street, wrapped in a long black dress and shrouded in afternoon heat waves. Her mystery demands that you simply must know more, even if it’s only through a fictional spinoff.
Listen and you might overhear a snippet of an amusing conversation—like three men who sound like they are planning a hit, but actually are hair stylists discussing office politics.
If you don’t have your inspiration journal with you when inspiration sparks, capture your thoughts on scraps paper, napkins and envelopes—anything that you can find. Tuck them into your journal until you have time to copy them. Before you find yourself in a sticky situation, without ideas and frantic for a creative foothold, store up some fireflies.
Other articles that you may be interested in: You say you’re not a storyteller? I beg to differ. OR Why You Should Share Your Stories Even When You’re Still Learning.