A short essay on story ideas from writer and publisher, Luke Kondor. Video up top or text down below.
Let’s talk about story ideas.
Ideas are sacred in the world of telling stories. After all, what’s a story without an interesting idea of which to base it around? Like a thrumming neon-drenched power source, ideas are the essential chunk of energy and inspiration of which powers everything else. The idea is the seed of which grows characters, worlds, politics, magic, fantasy, horrors, epiphanies, love, and loves lost. Eventually, a fully grown story might even sprout a piece of fruit on one of its many branches, which may then go on to seed (inspire) a great many more stories.
I make it sound somewhat magical but it’s really not.
Sure, occasionally you’ll stumble upon an idea so powerful it’ll have your fingers shaking and your eyes dancing as you run to the keyboard to write it down, but for the most part, ideas are as commonplace as pissing.
Unzip and let go.
It’s really as easy as that.
A year ago I challenged myself to come up with a new story idea every single day for a whole year. I called it #PROJECT365.
I gave myself the following mandate:
“Ideas can be shit, detailed, loose, tight, scenario-based, character-based, or could just be a single line of dialogue which might later unfurl itself into a glorious tendril of butt-tickling wonder-magic … or something.”
And 365 days later and it is done. Project completed. Some of those ideas have gone onto become novels, short stories, scripts, etc, and a whole boatload of them are in the toilet where they belong.
Unzip and let go.
But as with any finished project, it’s important to look back, learn some lessons, level up.
So here we go:
1.) “Where do your ideas come from?”
It’s a question we hear quite often and underneath the layers of pomp and pretension, it’s actually an incredibly simple one.
The ideas come from you, them, whoever.
An idea for a story is the collective guff that’s caught in your mind-filter. That one line from a book you read, a funny way someone looked at you, a face you saw in the steamed up window of a bus, a snippet of a dream (or nightmare), the terrified way you feel walking through a field of horses. It’s these and more. Concentrated and compressed by your natural curiosity, worked over and churned until their disparate natures come together to form something that resembles something that only you could conceive.
An idea for a story doesn’t come from anywhere special. It comes from you.
Sometimes the only reason you’re struggling is because you’re trying to come up with someone else’s ideas. Stop that. Lean into your own curiosities and eccentricities. Do you, my friend, do you.
2.) Don’t be too critical.
Sometimes we’re far too precious. We think that everything we do has to be amazing. It’s Wow-or-Die. But it’s that line of thought that will get you all clogged up. To go back to our pissing metaphor, it’ll get your zipper stuck.
See how in my #PROJECT365, the first permission I gave myself was for the ideas to be shit, because it’s important to allow for that.
Because you need to be comfortable with making bad ideas. In fact, if you’re reading this right now and you’re stuck, I challenge you to come up with 10 bad ideas. Go for it. I bet you can’t get through all of them without finding an idea with some merit to it, something that requires further exploration.
Because if you want to be good, you have to allow yourself to be bad.
3.) Some ideas will repeat.
And that’s okay.
A number of my ideas in my project were actually the same idea in a different dressing. Most of the time I didn’t even see it. It’s only in retrospect that I’m able to connect the dots.
And it’s usually these ideas that requite further exploration because it’s these concepts that I was naturally leaning towards.
What about you? What do you keep coming back to? What themes have been reappearing and refuse to die?
For me, there are recurring themes of the father-son relationship, technology altering life, portals to other dimensions, talking animals, London and it’s history, etc, but these are my natural themes and these are for me to explore.
4.) Feel free to forget them.
Stephen King once said that his best editing tool for ideas is time. He said that time would allow him to forget the bad ideas and remember the good ones. John Lennon once said he wrote ten song ideas a day and would never write them down, comfortable in the fact that he’d remember the best ones regardless.
See, the good ideas will always come back, or never leave in the first place. Sometimes, and I’m guilty of this myself, we panic because we think if we don’t do something with the idea right away, we’ll lose it, or somebody else will take it, or simply happen upon it at the same time.
So breathe, allow yourself to forget a few ideas, let them fly free, if they’re worth much of anything, they’ll come back.
5.) Ideas aren’t worth shit without execution.
Well, let me rephrase.
The idea will only get you so far. It’s up to you to take it, work on it, explore it, make it into something.
With great ideas, comes great responsibility. You birthed the thing, now it’s time to teach it to walk, get it to adulthood so it can take on a life of its own.
You can have stacks of notebooks filled with ideas, but unless you actually take one and make it into a finished piece, they’ll die, your creative genius unloved and unknown.
So don’t be the guy that has the great idea for a short story but never writes it, or the girl who thinks she could make a write horror screenplay but never writes it, or even the runner who buys the special running shoes, tries them on, but never takes them outside.
Be the person who makes stuff.
Be the person who makes stuff.
Unzip, let go, and finish what you started. Nobody likes a dribbler...
This short essay on the craft of storytelling is brought to you by Luke Kondor's Patrons over at Patreon.com/Lukeofkondor.