Q & A: What do you do when you can’t think of anything to write about?

Stephanie says: I need ideas and fast. What do you do when you can’t think of anything to write about?

Stephanie,

I find brainstorming new ideas one of the best parts of being an author. It’s an excuse to daydream. And I love daydreaming. It’s a wonder I get any writing done!

There are two tricks I use to come up with new ideas. The first idea came from Stephen King’s book On Writing. Stephen says to come up with a strong story idea, one should combine two completely unrelated things.

For example:

Murder and mayhem & prom

Can you name the story? It’s an older one. Carrie. Stephen King’s first book, which was about a girl who goes crazy at prom and kills a lot of people. Eww.

Here are some more examples:

Boarding school & wizards  (Harry Potter)

Love & vampires   (Twilight)

A criminal mastermind & fairies  (Artemis Fowl)

Outer space & hitchhiking  (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy)

Another good way of coming up with a story is asking the “What if?” question.

For example:

What if twelve teens had to fight to the death on national television?
(Hunger Games)

What if a rich Manhattan teenage girl had to relocate to a
farm in Oklahoma?

(So Not Happening)

What if a teenage boy was recruited to become an MI6 agent?   
(Alex Rider)

What if a boy found out he was a demigod?
(Percy Jackson)

What if a ditsy blonde got into Harvard Law School?
(Legally Blonde)

What if a boy was raised by wild animals?
(The Jungle Book)

If you can come up with something using one or both of these techniques, you’ll be on your way to a strong idea. You’re far from done. You still need to spend time thinking about an overall plot and characters, but hopefully this will get your brain working.

So look around the room and come up with two completely unrelated things. Then brainstorm a bit more and tell me what you came up with. I’ll go first.

Hope this helps.

7 Responses to “Q & A: What do you do when you can’t think of anything to write about?”

  1. novelteen says:

    Jill’s idea from looking around the room.

    I see a clock that’s ticking, and my daughter. So I combine ticking clocks and people.

    So… what if there was a girl who discovered she was an android and her batteries were running out. But they were special batteries that she couldn’t just buy at the store?

    That might be a fun story. How about you? What idea can you come up with from looking around the room?

  2. Aloha says:

    Wow, you just listed all my favorite books (sans Twilight).

    I agree that combining two obscure ideas could turn out to something quirky. Another idea is taking vague ideas from two pieces of literature and throwing them together.

    That’s how my most recent novel-working turned out. A mixture of High School Musical and The Matrix… A group of teenagers find out their entire existence was a lie and they have to break out of their condemned reality.

    I didn’t see the literary connections when I first thought if it, but at the very least it helps me explain it to people. Not that it makes it any less… odd.

    Personally, I have an overflow of ideas and have to decide which ones to write. But if I have writer’s block for blogging, school essays, etc, I’ve found that googling “blog ideas” or the general theme of your essay will help tons with ideas.

    • novelteen says:

      Aloha,
      What a good example! Thanks for sharing that.
      And it’s a great thing to be able to explain your story in a quick way like that. It really helps an editor, agent, or potential reader connect.
      Very cool.

  3. Pam Halter says:

    Jill – love your idea! I have a writing game I play when teaching workshops that involves starting a story and then adding something totally non-related. It really helpes the creativity. I tell students to go as far as they can and then pull back because somewhere in the middle is a great idea.

    I often brainstorm with my writing partner. In fact, we’re going away this coming weekend to a friend’s condo because we’re both starting new novels and we want to get a good start without distractions.

    • novelteen says:

      That’s really neat, Pam. That game idea sounds like a lot of fun. Thanks for sharing.
      My sister came to visit me once, I got her brainstorming with me. It was so much fun and a lot of help.
      🙂

  4. Im haveing trouble writing a 7 page thing on a storie that im saposta write i cant think strait… i have too many things on my mind and i dont know how to clear my mind i need help!!!!!!! 🙁

    • novelteen says:

      Sommer,
      Assignments can be tricky. Usually, the best thing to do is to force yourself to sit there until you have something written down. If you give me a little more information on the assignment, I might be able to give you some ideas.
      Jill

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