I’m sitting at my desk at home determined to come out of this with at least one good idea to write about. There is an idea out there. I know it. So where can I find one?
Gaming is sort of like a quick-fix sub for reading. It distracts me from the current problem while exposing me to the works of others. Sometimes I’m in a gaming session and a bit of narrative will stick in my mind. More often than that, the mechanics of the game is a refreshing stimulus. If I’m playing a military strategy game, groups of units can serve as placeholders. By looking at their relationship to each other, a light can go off in my head on how I can organize a fictional civilization in my own writing. In terms of narrative elements, ripping entire plotlines is, of course, out of the question. It’s more about keeping an open mind to small details. In the Starcraft games, for instance, the Protoss are perhaps the most advanced species in the universe, but their arrogance opened their world to invasion and now they’re essentially homeless. That juxtaposition of might and a nomadic existent can serve as the starting point of a completely original story.
Games only go so far. They give you the hint of an idea. Documentaries give ideas in their entirety. If you go this route, I strongly recommend looking at each documentary individually or a group of related programs. Watching a few programs on time travel can help you build up ideas for a time travel story, but if you then try adding space exploration, zombies, and genetic engineering into the mix you’re going to end up with a steaming mess. You’re going to try being too many things to too many people at the same time.
Pinterest, DeviantArt, and Basically Everything Visual
Doug Chiang, the art director for The Phantom Menace, once said you can take all the rejected concept art from the film and make up a completely new story from it. I’ve been a big fan of concept art with Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and District 9 showing the most creativity. The Star Wars cross-sections books are wonderful, letting my mind’s eye explore places the film’s camera never went to. The same goes for websites like DeviantArt where artists have galleries so detailed and rich that they have illustrated their own universes. And at the risk of sounding old as fuck, I’ve only today started exploring Pinterest and realizing how powerful a tool it is in saving and organizing inspiration online.
One thing I must keep in mind through all this is how raw everything is. None of the ideas I write down are fully formed stories. Most are mere situations. Coming up with a viable story is the real hurdle.