Get some cardboard and cut out thirty cards. On ten of them write NORMAL, on ten write BIZARRE, and on ten write PLACE.
On the back of the NORMAL cards, write down everyday characters such as the Family Cat, the Postman (or woman) or My Teacher. On the back of the BIZARRE cards write down not-so-normal characters such as a Brontosaurus, a Spanner-Headed Alien or Edgar the Mad Haddock. On the back of the PLACE cards write down places such as the cinema, the beach or Greenland. Now turn all the cards over (in separate piles), swish them around a bit, and pick one from each. Now write your story using these characters and this place.
You can use the same method with different types of cards. For example, one set could be labelled TIME, and include different periods in history.
But it always good to being unexpected characters together. It also works to put everyday things, things you know well, with completely strange ones.
Get an account with the bank of ideas
Ideas may come at any time. My first rule is, never lose one! Write it down, or record it, and put it in a file. Use the best ones as a starting-point for a story. However, I never start a story till I’ve let the idea brew, like a good cup of tea. Let’s take this example: your starting idea is that a girl gives her gran a gorilla for Christmas. Then first think about gorillas. What do they eat? Where do they live? What are their habits? Some research may be helpful. The things you think about, or learn, will give you ideas for your story. Write them down in a bank of ideas. Do the same for the gran character, and Christmas, and anything else important in your story. Then start imagining your scenes one by one.
Of course, you may prefer to just start writing at this point, and I wouldn’t argue against that. Often the best ideas come as you actually write. But at some point you will need to go back to thinking about where your story is going. Your bank of ideas will help with this.
Many of my stories involve gradual changes: in Mark 2, a strange boy gradually takes over another boy’s house. In Danger Eyes a cat hypnotises a family one by one. In Honest, a girl resolves never to tell a lie and bit by bit becomes an outcast of society. Why not write your own change story? Decide what the change will be and plot out the stages. To take a simple example, a boy gradually becomes a dog. First he starts scratching a lot, then he notices his sense of smell has improved, etc etc. You just need a reason why it has happened and an interesting way of resolving it.
A game I sometimes use is called ‘amnesia’. One person starts a story, but keeps having lapses of memory. The others suggest what it is they have forgotten. Eg “I went to the pet shop and bought a. . .um. . . “ (“piranha?” “squid?” etc) The storyteller chooses one and carries on.
Be really boring
Think of someone famous you can’t stand. Now write them a letter or email from someone who is their number one fan! And make this fan the most boring person in the world! You know, the kind of person who goes into minute detail about what they had for breakfast, having no idea their audience might not find this fascinating! At some point in the letter, tell an anecdote about the day the fan met their hero – a day the hero has probably long forgotten! And finally, the boring fan has one great favour to ask of their hero – a favour highly unlikely to be granted!
A great way to make an instant story is to get one or two friends and make up the story together. Again, start from a picture, then take it in turns to make up a sentence at a time. Record a head shot of each person saying their sentence, maybe with a suitable backdrop behind them. Keep going till the story is finished. But don’t always accept someone’s first idea. Discuss which ideas take the story in an interesting direction.
Start from a picture
Photos or cartoons make good starting-points for stories. Really look at the character and start imagining all about them. Put notes into your bank of ideas. Maybe give your character a sidekick. Then give your character or characters a quest, and something or somebody which stands in their way. Think it through scene by scene.
How about using some of my doodles? Please note – do not show these to a psychiatrist!