I know they’re not all brand spanking new, but there’s enough variety that two movies about, say, werewolves won’t be the same. How do authors and screenwriters think of new concepts or twists? Is it just brainstorming?
Daydreaming, for starters.
How do musicians think up new songs? How do artists think up new scenes to paint?
That’s how their minds work. They wouldn’t be writers (musicians/artists/anything else you name) if their minds didn’t. But the actual process of creativity is totally mysterious. It happens. You can try to explain it after the fact but that never really works. One second it’s in your head. Period. For some artists it stops happening, too. Writer’s block is real and frightening. Nobody understands that either.
I’m view things quite differently from the OP. How could a professional writer not come up with original ideas on a regular basis? I regularly come up with interesting/offbeat/unusual ideas for movies and TV shows. Usually at least a couple a week. And I mean big chunks of plot and dialogue. Not just an elevator pitch.
And there’s more. A few years ago I decided to try writing these down in full. After a bit of effort to get into the habit, I now can write full scripts. Including season+ sets of scripts for TV shows. Lots of fun for just my own amusement. I even enjoy rereading them since they’re more fun than most stuff out there.
So why is TV crammed with 2 Broke Girls and Whitney and the theaters get stuff like Playing for Keeps while truly original stuff like Community gets ignored? That is the mystery.
The hard part for me, in terms of originality, is trying to avoid writing in a character for Ray Wise at every chance.
Read Roald Dahl’s Going Solo and Stephen King’s On Writing. As they explain, ideas simply happen. It’s something a person is born with.
I sum it up by saying “Anyone can learn to write well, but only a born writer can write good.”
Play-Doh Fuzzy Pumper always worked for me.
It’s easy. You take an idea that nobody has thought of. Then you go and think of it first!
Oddly enough, Oscar Wilde had the exact same problem.
There used to be a PO Box in Schenectady that you could write away to. Maybe they’ve moved it online somewhere; I’m not sure.
In general, either 1) combinations, 2) re-interpretations, 3) or twists on old ideas.
As the writer of the Bible famously complained as far back as the Book of Ecclesiastes “there’s nothing new under the sun”. We human beings have a rather limited collection of general themes, plots, and character archetypes that we like to tell over and over and over again.
But people do change, as do the times. No two people have the same experience with the same thing, so some guy will always think “hey, isn’t it cool if…?”
For example, Twilight, as much as it is a collection of cliches, takes “Vampire” and combines it with “Star-Crossed Lovers”, an idea that is not present in the original legends of vampires. As the stories got retold, vampires went from evil predators (they want to eat you) to sexual tempters (they want to “eat” you) to tragic monsters (they still want to eat you, but they feel really, really bad about it), and so “Romantic Tragedy Where One Party is Undead” became a thing.
Ideas can also be seen in the light of different philosophies. You can present things in an optimistic light (this will work, or things will turn out alright) or a pessimistic one (the system is fundamentally flawed, or people will find a way to screw up even in a perfect society). For example, “Rookie Ends Up Piloting a Giant Robot” is a fairly common starting point in shows with said giant robot. So you can play it as totally awesome wish fulfillment (he saves the world, gets the girl, etc.) or as a disaster waiting to happen (he gets people killed, everyone hates the idiot who doesn’t know what they’re doing, etc.).
Finally, an author can play with our expectations. They can present something to make it look like one thing is happening and then spring a surprise on us later. For example, the twist in The Sixth Sense works because we’re expecting a character played by Bruce Willis to shrug off being shot. Then, as the course of the story plays out, you get little hints that things may not be as they appear. Finally, the revelation happens, and we find out that the movie’s theme “Mentor Helps Someone Get Over a Life-Altering Experience”, but not in the way that we think. Reality intrudes on the plot, not in that the supernatural doesn’t exist and the kid needs help, but it’s that bullet wounds to the kidney are exactly as fatal as they’re supposed to be and the adult is a ghost in denial about his death!
Finally, I think the idea that writing is some mystical experience is bupkis. Yeah, some of us might be more creative or have better word-craft, but nobody is born being able to write The Most Amazing Novel Ever. Every writer worth their salt, if they’re being honest, will tell you that they went through countless drafts before coming up with their final product. Some days, the words will flow a lot easier than others, but no story springs fully-formed from your forehead.
Original Ideas are easy. Most of them suck.
Having the discipline to take the idea and create a story around it, now that’s rare.
Ideas are the easy part. Anyone can come up with an interesting story idea.
It’s taking the idea and turning it into fiction that’s difficult.
Several of my published stories came out completely without any attempt to do anything other than a basic copyedit (e.g., Boomerang Award winner, “Natural High”). It doesn’t happen all the time, and no writer is foolish enough to count on it, but but it does happen.
Strongly agree with this.
But I strongly disagree with the people up thread who say ideas just ‘happen’, like some magical puff of fairy dust.
I’m a designer who has to come up with creative ideas every day, to a deadline. I can’t sit under a tree waiting for that creative apple to hit me on the head. If I’m struggling for ideas, I have to use different methods of thinking to pull the ideas out.
This can be lots of things. E.g.,
– walking around outside and looking at stuff with an open mind – shop windows, car number plates, road signs, anything that might give me even a single word or object that takes me on a new direction.
– taking a word that relates to the subject and thumbing through a thesaurus to find a new angle or interpretation, or just googling it and see what words or images pop up. Or try looking at the opposite of what that word means to turn my thinking on its head.
– brainstorming with others. I like to take people who aren’t designers and just fire random questions at them to see what comes out. Word association is really useful.
and on and on, until a tiny germ of a random thought starts you off in a new direction that you can flesh out.
That’s easy for you to say. You live in Schenectady.
There aren’t many original ideas. And what a writer does is take the same old ideas and present them in an entertaining way. The original part would be a new variation on the old theme. Move the characters in time or place, change the ages, background, gender. But a good story is in the telling.
*hisssssssss *<fx makes sign of cross with fingers>
…never mind. Has nothing to do with the book, really.
You’re both right, actually.
You have to work at your art. But every writer I’ve ever talked to about this knows that magic moment when the words seem to appear from your fingertips, bypassing the brain. That can’t literally be true, but it’s exactly what it feels like. “Where did *that *come from?”
It’s rare that an entire work comes out that way, but I’ve had it happen for a short short story.
Forming ideas from the influences around you is a skill; like all skills, some are naturally good at it, some are all but incapable, and any level of ability above zero can be nurtured and increased. Part of being a creative individual is to learn to create initial ideas from the tsunami of raw material your life throws at you.
I am definitely in this camp. I suspect what’s going on with people who think they’re not creative (despite wanting to be) isn’t that they’re not having ideas but that they’re not attempting to develop them. Or they get discouraged after a couple of development attempts don’t pan out.
Also, Douglas Hofstadter had some interesting thoughts about a completely original idea not being inherently superior to a new variation on an existing idea.
I read an interview with a famous writer once – I wish I could remember who it was – and he was asked this question. His answer was something like this: “I get that question all the time, and it’s hard for me to understand how it can be asked. Because I get ideas all the time. Every waking moment, every time I see something, every time I hear something, I get an idea for a story. I must get a hundred ideas for stories every single day. The hard part is weeding through all ideas to decide which ones are the best ones, which ones are worth committing to paper.”