Don Bosco is a writer who specializes in fiction for teens and children. His stories are inspired by Asian legends and pop culture. In 2015, his Sherlock Hong Adventures series was acquired by Marshall Cavendish for international release. He is a local co-organiser for StoryCode Singapore, which promotes transmedia storytelling across different platforms and formats. He also started the publishing studio Super Cool Books in 2011. His latest book is Imagine All This: How To Write Your Own Stories, published by Marshall Cavendish and available late-2016.
Where do good story ideas come from? The same place where bad story ideas come from. Inside your head.
Here are three simple exercises that help you use your imagination with more confidence, so that you can develop better story ideas.
Try them out. As you work on them, you’ll find yourself able to connect ideas faster, visualise your story more vividly, and enjoy the story writing process more thoroughly.
You can do these exercises when you’re on the bus, waiting for the train, or just lazing around in your room with your favourite music playing in the background. Or if you prefer company, you could round up some friends and have a group storytelling session. Bring snacks and drinks.
The inside of your head will be buzzing with so many good story ideas that you can’t wait to quit your job so you can write them all down.
TIP #1: Ask crazier “what if” questions
Most of us have been taught to ask only sensible questions. Which is helpful when you’re in school. But when writing a story, asking sensible questions about your character can only lead you to boring and predictable ideas.
On the other hand, asking crazy “what if” questions will definitely inspire unusual, astonishing, or even bizarre ideas. These are what you’ll need to make your story original and memorable.
TRY THIS: Here’s a fun activity that you can do anywhere. First, look around you and pick a common object. It can be a leaf, a street sign, a broken toy, a crushed drink can, or anything at all.
Next, make a list of crazy “what if” questions you can ask about this object.
For example, if it’s a leaf, you might think: What if this leaf suddenly starts to sing? What if eating this leaf gives you magical powers? What if this leaf has an incredibly hard and sharp edge that can be used to cut through metal?
You’ll come up with some fantastic ideas that you can use in your story.
TIP #2: Mix and Match
Some people believe that it’s no longer possible to create new stories. Instead, all we can do is recycle elements from existing stories, and present these in new ways.
You can use this approach to stretch your imagination and develop your own story concepts fairly quickly. Just combine elements from different stories, and throw in your own twists. Change all the names. Move everything to a different time period. See what you get.
TRY THIS: Think of a character that you like, whether from a book or movie or computer game. And then pick a setting from a popular fairy tale. Imagine that your chosen character has been set loose here, and see how quickly you can weave a story out of this scenario. What happens at first? What goes horribly wrong? How does this create chaos and confusion? How is everything resolved? What would be a cool title for this story?
You can try working on this with a few friends. It’s a fun party game.
TIP #3: Make it epic
Human beings are naturally captivated by stories about someone doing something heroic or ambitious. We can’t help it. We feel curious, inspired, even envious. Perhaps deep down inside we all long to be great ourselves.
When writing your story, find ways to raise the level of challenges that your main character has to face. Even if it’s a simple task, like going to the supermarket to buy some apples, you can include lots of extraordinary obstacles and complications along the way.
TRY THIS: The next time you miss your bus, or someone forgets to get your lunch, or you can’t access your email account, don’t get angry. Instead, get busy using your imagination. Pretend that there’s a powerful organisation that’s very interested in you, and they’re somehow responsible for messing up your life.
Who are they, and what do they want from you? What’s the epic task that you must complete, in order to keep yourself safe from them? What’s the grand reward waiting for you at the end?
Have fun thinking about this, and explore as many different ideas as you can. Some of them will definitely be fit for a bestseller.