The Teacup

General Category => Development Discussion => Topic started by: number473 on June 24, 2011, 09:15:42 PM

Title: Random Idea Generator (Writing Exercise)
Post by: number473 on June 24, 2011, 09:15:42 PM
As a writer, one of your greatest resources is your ideas. If you don't have an idea, you don't have a plot, you don't have characters, you don't have anything at all. However, there is also a dreadful thing called 'writers block'. And there can be that situation where you just need to to come up with the great idea for your next work. In the following, I present some thoughts and suggestions on that particular skill.

Before I begin, I would like to state my opinion that the story idea or general plot is not the most important thing in a work of fiction at all. A good writer should be able to hold the readers' attention and create a good product regardless of the subject matter. That said, you need some idea in order to proceed, and the assumption here is that you also want to create an idea of some merit. In other word, it is assumed that you want the idea, and hence the story created therefrom, to be well received by the audience or even to be capable of being sold or professionally published (or produced into a professional game or movie, etc.).

The key is that you cannot create the idea in a vacuum. This is the whole key: you need to set yourself some constraints or guidelines or be given these to start with. Then you're all set to go.

I'll give an example to illustrate this: There are sometimes teachers that think they are being kind or giving their students lots of choices, and the have the class write an essay giving full freedom as to subject matter, i.e. a 'write whatever you want' assignment. There was nothing that made me more mad! What am I supposed to write under such a situation! Whatever crazy, mundane or irrelevant topic the teacher gave, I had confidence I could write it. But given no topic at all, I was lost.

In many situations, you have more constraints than simply the topic about which you are writing, and if you are stuck about where to begin it can help to take cognizance of or even list these out. You'll want to take note that each of these also informs you decisions regarding the others.
  Two of these are the medium you are using and the genre of the work. Genre lines blend, of course, so be sensible about this. For example, I wouldn't do a hard sf piece as a manga, because the format doesn't lend itself well to the long descriptions usually required. If you have a short idea or message that you are trying to convey, a short story or short VN would clearly be better than a novel.
  Suppose we had our medium but we wanted to break away from the usual content or formula. Let's take VNs, the most common would be romance. After that, quest/rpg types show up in EVN relatively often, and I'm not particularly interested in writing a long, quest-type story anyway. Hmmm, looking over to my bookshelf for an unorthodox genre idea (I actually did this) I spot Azumanga Daioh. So, could we do a pure comedy VN. It could be interesting. How about a mall as an alternate setting to school? Could leave the characters' ages at about junior high. We've got to be careful to prevent it from becoming like the usual drivel that they pawn off on kids, but it could work. Next I would want character ideas. If we throw in a mischievous character we've got instant trouble but I'm not sure if that's the direction I would go. A VN is better for dialogue than action, so scrap the mischievous friend and replace with something else. Instead we want to populate the mall with interesting people. Hmm, I'll put this one on the back-burner for now - it would need more work before I would consider it a decent proposal.
  Another thing to consider is the target audience. A warning here, however: don't allow your preconceived notions about the audience's likes or dislikes to limit or overpower your writing. Never allow what is supposedly popular or the 'right way' to do stories of type X to stop you from creating your story to the best of your ability.
  Time and resources are things you need to take into consideration also. Unless you're doing a large-budget VN, you are unlikely to have the resources to include 30 characters with multiple CGs for the ending of each. Take that into account and limit the number of characters accordingly. On the other hand, if you are doing a novel, or even a short story, it is easy to include more characters.

Once you have a single component of the story, you should be able to work out all others to fit in with it. All other things aside, simply make an arbitrary decision or two and you will see that everything else will fall into place. You'll know whether it is a right or wrong choice by whether it enhances the story. For example, I did not think that having a troublemaker for a friend would work well in a VN, so I scrapped the idea. On the other hand, my choice of setting (the mall) was entirely arbitrary, although it does allow a lot of possibilities.

Alright, so as an exercise I will randomly generate some data and create an idea from them. You can even use one of those plot idea generators, just keep in mind that we want a sell-able (I'm using that as the benchmark for good enough) idea. You are fully justified in throwing away or redirecting something that would be just so absurd that it would be rejected outright.

Instead of something like that, I'm going to take 3 random pages from Wikipedia and use that as my starting point. This is what I got:,_Sochaczew_County (which I can't even pronounce)
Summary: A small village in Poland, an Indian banker, and a type of processor.

Well, I don't know much about Poland, but small village we can definitely do. ARM7 sounds like a reasonable name for a mecha...
The banker bit would be easy: the main character is a bank consultant (male). I enjoys his job, and though he finds it hard at times, nothing is more rewarding to him than giving a family the loan they need to buy a house or someone the opportunity to start up his or her own business. The ARM7 (change the name though. also not that it is actually a mobile processor) would then refer to the bank's supercomputer. Also, there are the new mobile devices (some sort of tablet) that bank staff have been using and they've finally gotten rid of all that paper. Naturally, the usual thing to happen would be for something to go wrong with the computer. Josh (the protagonist) gets a message from it asking for help (because he's such a good guy). Needless to say, this all takes place in a small, out-of-the-way village. Other characters include the newly-hired (pretty) bank teller and the manager, often overworked and not coping, so that our main character has to help him out. I'm actually tempted to say that this could be written as a romantic comedy (film). As a novel it would almost certainly turn into some sort of spy story (I don't like that sort of thing). The culprit in the end turns out to be the bank itself (or at least the higher-ups in the bank), which have programmed the computer to cheat their own systems. But the supercomputer becomes aware that they are doing something wrong and tries to stop them. The main point of the story is that the protagonist is a nice guy, but he has difficulty doing the right thing (and putting himself in danger) anyway. That would be if I was doing it as a novel or a VN. If I was going to write the screenplay, I would just have the computer act as matchmaker ^_^. Could even do both.

Okay, that was my demonstration and little talk on writing theory. The next step after that would be breathing life into the story, but that requires a bunch of other skills that won't be covered here.

The homework exercise, for those that would care to attempt it, is to randomly or not so randomly get yourself some constraints or specifications (I used Wikipedia, but you could use any other site with a random page button or something similar), write up your story idea and post it here.
  In the interest of learning and freedom of ideas, I don't reserve any rights to the above story ideas. Respondents are of course free to do as they wish, but remember: You've go not limit to the number of ideas you can come up with. Happy plotting!
Title: Re: Random Idea Generator (Writing Exercise)
Post by: Vatina on June 30, 2011, 07:24:39 AM
I also like to believe that it is possible to turn pretty much any idea into something great. It's not easy to do, but sometimes something really great appears that surprises you in how a certain idea and plot was used.

As for "write what you want" essays - I always loved those, as the alternative was mostly writing a business letter or an analysis of something :P At least the free choice made it possible for me to write a story instead. But yeah, not having a clear goal didn't make it easy if you didn't already have something in mind. One time we had an assigment like that, I ended up doing the same as you and take a look at my bookshelf - what I saw there, I would base my story on. It ended up being Wolf's Rain inspired. I got top marks for the only time during my three years, for a story I wrote a 1 am the night before the deadline. A little off topic, but - ah good times :)

Now to try the random idea thing... Here are the three points I got: .
So, a german actor, an Italian municipality and the volcanic hotspot that created Hawaii. Oh my.

Volcanic hotspots make a distaster story pretty obvious. Not too fond of those, but I guess it works as a plot point, so I'm open to that.

Alright then - a german actor is filming a movie in Italy. He's feeling a bit negative about everything as the movie is pretty lame, and he knows his career is falling apart when he only gets parts like this one. Because of this attitude to his job in Italy, he doesn't do much to socialise with the rest of the people on the set, and he has a bad habit of looking at them as second-rate actors too. That's when the weather slowly starts getting strange, but no one really pays it any mind as they have other things to worry about.
But a dormant volcanic hotspot has moved beneath Italy! Oh noes! (Probably wouldn't ever happen, but meh) The streets break open and lava goes everywhere. They now have to flee the scene and try and get to safety, and the main character soon finds himself alone with a couple of other people trying to flee. One of them is another actress from the movie, so they don't get along all that well. There is also a stranger in group, one of the locals.
Much drama ensures, the actors reconcile, you can probably guess the rest.