Genre is hard to pin down these days. Are you telling a contemporary story or a romance? An adventure or a fantasy? Scifi, clifi, or horror?
A good writer will you tell that the labels have shifted and blurred and it’s hard to tell which one best describes the work most succinctly. But it is the blurring and blending of these genres that creates new, interesting work. Despite there only being two, or seven, or thirty-six fundamental plots, we as writers, can still satisfy the need for something new with the combinations of ideas and strong emotional cores for our characters.
It is important to have well-formed characters that your readers can empathize with–or viciously despise. It doesn’t matter if your character is a child or a giant bug, characterization is characterization.
But the ideas are what make great fiction, especially speculative fiction. And no, I don’t mean “Harry Potter, but in space! You’re a martian, Harry!”
No, the best stories take aspects of the genre and make them integral to the story–not just parts of the proverbial stage.
Coming up with ideas that no one has seen before is tricky. At the very least, you need a fresh take on an old idea (again, not Harry Potter in space). Once you find that core idea, you can begin writing from there.
Let’s do an exercise to generate an original, central idea and then work to expand it. If you need to, repeat these steps to build your work and the world.
- Get a starting topic. We need to generate a “seed” to grow our story. I find that picture prompts really work best. Use Lorem Picsum to find a random photo.
TWO IMPORTANT NOTES:
1. Use the first image you see; don’t pick and choose.
2. Avoid topic images–don’t choose a picture of a spaceship for a sci-fi piece or elves for fantasy, etc. We’re making new ideas here.
- Pick only one element from that image or idea. For example:
In this photo, I’m going to focus on the railing.
- Repeat steps 1 and 2 for a cross-idea. For example, let’s say this is my second photo:
I’m going to focus on the bridge on the cat’s nose.
- Force these ideas to come together. If you have a genre in mind, use that as a guide and let it color the idea.
1. Focus on the aspects you originally focused on. In my case, the railing and the cat’s nose.
2. At this point, you have either a concept or an image. One image could be a railing made of cat noses (ew), and a concept could be a railing on a cat because the world exists on the back of Mr. Mittens.
- Now twist the concept, if you can. Challenge yourself to at least try. Maybe the railing moves for a reason. Maybe it’s fashion for cats. Is the railing on the back of Mr. Mittens somehow the crux of your story?
- Ask your resulting image why–just like you would if you were a precocious two-year-old. Why is it a railing? Why does Mr. Mittens need a railing? Why is the world on a cat? Who lives on a cat? Who lives on a cat and needs a railing? What danger is there in falling off Mr. Mittens?
- And here’s the key: How is this new image or concept central to the problem of the story? How does it affect your characters? Is it only part of the problem or is it the problem? Is it the solution, somehow?
Now you have something relatively new, albeit possibly strange. Run with it, though. Force it to fit your new world or force the world to fit the idea. Experimentation is good for you.