It often seems that my brain is full of a myriad ideas flashing and zipping about like fireflies. Some of them are little more than pinpoints of light out in the darkness, always well beyond my reach. Others seem content to hover near me, showing little glimpses of their true shape and color whenever I glance their way. And every once in a while a particularly bright one flies right into my face.
When I was a younger writer I had a lot of fun frolicking and running after my ideas, catching whichever I could reach, often hopping from one to another as the mood struck me. I soon discovered that this kind of behavior is not conducive to actually finishing projects; most especially since it seems that I get the largest swarms of ideas when I am already working on a project. So I began to set the ones I had caught in jars about my desk until I could study and develop each one. I enjoy just sitting and watching them on occasion. Especially when I’m bogged down in a project and need to remind myself how fun and engaging writing is supposed to be. ^-^
Another important thing I’ve learned about collecting ideas is that you don’t have to “catch ’em all”. Or at least, you don’t have to run around grabbing them as soon as they appear. One of my favorite authors, Terry Brooks, once said that when he first gets an idea he usually lets it be for a little while. If it is engaging enough that he remembers it later, then it is probably worth his time to investigate it. I have been using my own version of his approach for several years, and have definitely found that the ideas I am catching are ones that I am much more excited to work with.
Of course, the best way to catch an idea is with a net of words! And since that’s about as far as I can reasonably stretch this analogy, here are the three main ‘net’ types that I use in my collecting endeavors. ^-^
1. Prompts and Premises
When I see the dancing glimmer of a distant idea that I know I will want to play with later, I write a quick prompt on something I am likely to see often, like my planner or a bit of paper on my desk. Technically I guess this is more like bait than a net. XD Still, it works. Thinking about an idea offhand like this often leads to it zipping close enough that I can make out the details.
I still have bit of paper kicking around my nightstand that says, “Cats as library guardians”, which has actually drawn several ideas into viewing range. ^-^
Sometimes a distant idea has enough definition for me to write down the basic premise in two or three sentences. I usually keep these in an actual notebook, although I have a large collection of them on a notepad file from waaaay back when I first started writing seriously. One of them became my pet novella.
2. Storyteller Outlines
This is my net of choice. ^-^ Sort of a strange hybrid of list and traditional outline that I use when I have all or most of a story idea and need to get it out of my head. They are comprised of short sentences, one to a line, that go through the basic beats of the story from beginning to end.
For example, here’s the first half of my SO for ‘Angel Wings’:
Amariyah, Excelsior version, a day in her apartment.
Plenty to do: greenhouse, classes ect.
Thinking of Lera and Tucker?
Her ‘Landlady’ comes to her for herbal mixes.
Finally someone comes to her door, to get help for injured relative/friend
but she won’t leave the apartment.
They plead, she stands firm.
“You have to bring them here.”
Person says relative/friend will die if moved
and will definitely die if she does not help them.
She remains firm.
I find this kind of outline is a lot more fluid and versatile than the traditional kind. Sometimes I diverge from the plot for a line or two, to write out my thoughts about a character’s motivations at a particular point, or even bits of dialogue if I have an idea of what they might say. This stream of consciousness type of writing helps me to get the entire story idea written out quickly, without getting bogged down in specifics if I don’t have them yet. In fact, when I am writing out a totally new idea I don’t even use names. Instead I call a character by their role, like Main or Antagonist, or even by the generalization I first used for them in the outline. I have an SO for a story, based on the Frog Prince, where the main characters are called Eldest, Younger, and Regent. ^-^
Of course you don’t have to structure it by lines the way I have above. The list form just works well for me, especially as I do my conceptual stuff almost exclusively with pen and paper. The point is to write out the whole thing in simple sentences, as if you were telling a friend the short version… Mainly because I’ve found that trying to write out an entire story plot with a traditional outline takes waaaay too long. And being able to see the whole idea makes things go much more smoothly when you get down to actually writing the story.
3. All the things!
On those rare occasions when an idea flies right into my face and wiggles its little glowing butt at me, shouting, “Hey listen!” I will pull out all the stops to make sure I have captured it properly. Usually this consists of one or two Storyteller Outlines, and some quick premises on characters and concepts within the story; but can go as far as pages and pages of other notes and even world profiles, depending on the breadth of the idea. Really, whatever works to preserve the scope of what I’m seeing in my head.
A couple of weeks ago, while I was editing ‘Take On Me’, I got smacked between the eyes by an idea centered around the ant apocalypse. I know that sounds super ridiculous. ^-^ It probably came from me often telling folk that, aside from the dragon apocalypse, the ant apocalypse is really the one we should all be worried about… but honestly, I can’t really track the evolution from that to full blown story/world idea. Regardless, I now have a brief history of said apocalypse, as well as detailed premises for six possible books (basically two separate trilogies) set in and after it chilling between the pages of my idea notebook. No seriously, I really do!
So, should I ever feel the need to dabble in sci-fi, I am super prepared! XD Not to mention that I’m very glad to have gotten that all out of my head. I can’t imagine focusing on my current projects very well with that much IDEA swirling and zooming about in there.
What sorts of tricks and traps do you use for securing zippy ideas for later use? Or do you prefer your ideas free range? ^-^ Are you also preparing for the inevitable day when the ants decide they don’t want stupid humans cluttering their nice earth? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.