story, science, technology and creativity

How to steal story ideas and ingredients from history, science and culture

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Okay, I’ll describe the book, you see if you can guess it. Ready? Here goes:

Kid starts at a new school, makes a few friends (and a few enemies), discovers s/he is unique in some way, runs into some challenges, and achieves something worthwhile at the end.

So, did you guess the book? Probably.

About a million books have this plot, including my first book.

The bad news

So here’s the bad news: If you’re a writer, or you want to be a writer, there are very few completely original new ideas out there. Most things have been done already; most stories are already written.

But here’s the good news: most things haven’t been done by YOU. YOU haven’t written these stories. So if you ever don’t know what to write about, don’t stress. Just think of a story that’s already been done, and do it again, YOUR way.

The good news

Let’s say I think Aladdin is an absolute babe (and I do….the best-looking hero Disney’s ever created).

Could I write a story that starred a poor-but-kind pickpocket with a ripped torso and rich, dark hair? Yes! So long as I wrote the story MY way. If I called my hero Aladdin and gave him a flying carpet and made the bad guy a magician called Jafar, then I’d be plagiarising.

But plenty of people have written about poor-but-kind pickpockets, and plenty of people have written about heroes with ripped torsos and rich, dark hair. These are just ingredients. You can’t plagiarise ingredients. And great ideas don’t come from nothing. They come from great ingredients.

Japanese oni ogre bellHow to steal ingredients for your story ideas:

1)    Find something you love. A book you adore. A movie you can’t wait to see again. A character you’ve fallen in love with. A bad guy you love to hate. An imaginary friend. A magical power. Whatever. I love monsters. In any book or movie, it’s always the freaky monsters I want to see again. So when I looked at Japanese mythology and found hundreds of new freaky monsters, I was instantly in love.

2)    Steal that thing you love. Pick it up, take it from its home, and put it in your brain. Before I started writing TAKESHITA DEMONS, I researched Japanese monsters. I asked Japanese friends to tell me ghost stories, I borrowed books on Japanese culture and history, I watched Japanese movies, I researched Japanese mythology, I collected spooky Japanese things (like ogre-shaped bells and skeletons trapped in boxes)…

spooky Japanese bell

3)    Dissect the thing you love. Ask yourself: why do you love it? What is it that attracts you to this thing? Ask yourself again and again, and be specific in your answers. Why do I love Japanese monsters? Because they’re so different to European monsters. Because they’re not always evil, and not always good. Because they behave in unexpected ways. Because they remind me that magic is possible. Because I’d rather be afraid of something imaginary than something real. Because they usually have a secret weakness, so I know I could beat them if I really tried. These things attract me to Japanese monsters. These are the ingredients I need to make a great story idea.

4)    Take your dissected ingredients, mix them with other dissected ingredients, and squish them into a new and completely original idea. To my love of monsters I added my experience as a kid in a new school, my love of water, that spooky feeling when you visit your empty school late at night, my love of magic…and lots more, and I bundled it all up into the idea that became TAKESHITA DEMONS.

What happened to Aladdin?

Good question. Did Aladdin make it in to TAKESHITA DEMONS? Well, let’s break it down: Why do I like Aladdin? Not just for his good looks. He’s also brave, loyal, funny and makes unlikely friends. Are these ingredients in TAKESHITA DEMONS? You bet! But there’s not a magic lamp or flying carpet in sight.


Author: cristyburne


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