Four days ago, I returned to Illinois from Hollins University, where I spent the last six weeks in my first summer of graduate school. While I was there, I met so many great people, fellow writers that I know will have my back when it comes to anything from delineating the borders between different types of fantasy, to recommending half the books in Barnes and Noble for me to buy.
I also got mini-lectures in my workshop class, on topics like characterization, plotting, conflict/tension, and dialogue, among other integral craft elements. Some of my favorite bits of information came from the talk Tom Angleberger–who wrote the Origami Yoda series–gave us.
Aside from his amusing illustrations of a story we made up on the spot, and an anecdote about how he gave Jabba the Hutt nasal parasites, Angleberger also talked about his four methods for getting ideas for his books, which include:
- Witness real life. This one is self-explanatory.
- The gag. Some kind of hook or joke that plays out through the story. Probably the basis of his book Poop Fountain!
- The sandbox. When you mess around with other people’s characters and worlds. (Recommended for fanfic, but not necessarily traditionally published work, although he did write Origami Yoda and got permission to use the characters.)
- Share ideas. Collaborate with someone, bounce ideas off of them, or ask them to help you work through a problem. There are so many ways to work with others, and writing doesn’t have to be lonely!
So how did these ways of finding ideas manifest in my writing this term? Because yes, you can definitely have more than one source at play in the same piece, and that’s always one of my favorite parts of drafting. Now, my story incorporates research on the noise ice makes (I used YouTube, because that’s hard to witness in the summer). I don’t have a gag per se, but since my novella WIP is a Cinderella retelling, I’m having fun seeing how many ways I can allude to original versions of the story, and for me, the sandbox works in two ways. Sure, I’m using the archetypal characters present in the fairy tale, but I’m also playing around in the high fantasy universe I’ve been writing in for years. And I can’t tell you how many great ideas have come from the group I workshopped this story with. Having critiques is both vital and fun, because as much as they point out what weaknesses need strengthening, they also pump you up to keep writing with their feedback.
I know that this advice has been given a thousand times, and it’ll probably be doled out a thousand more times. But this summer, I needed that obvious reminder that ideas are everywhere. Otherwise, I don’t know if my story for our Fall Frivolity anthology would have ever been written.
Where are your stories drawing from? And are you submitting them to us? I hope so!