That moment when a fantastic idea for a plot line drops into your head is one of the most wonderful moments in a writer’s life. On a par with that moment when you write “The End” or when you notice you’ve made another sale, when inspiration comes knocking, your mind explodes like a firework display. Time stands still, everything around fades to mist, and your imagination suddenly takes off at near light speed as you see this initial idea suddenly grow and blossom inside your head. I may be over dramatising it but that’s what it’s like for me.
As time goes on and I write more, these mind blowing moments happen more often and more easily. I’m at the point now, where I can almost make them happen simply by looking at something with a certain questioning attitude at the forefront of my mind. For instance, just now I saw a commercial on TV that showed three women singing, (it was for insurance). I decided to find out if I could come up with a plot idea, so I watched the advert and mentally asked myself, “what could I make out of this?” Immediately, I realised that I could base a story around a woman (or man), who comes from a planet where their voices have a much larger vocal range than humanoids from earth. This person could have developed their voice so that when they sing at the certain wavelength, the sound has a strange effect upon anyone listening, rendering them into a state much like that of light trance. He/she could then either commit some crime and disappear, or commit a crime and then continue singing on a different wavelength so that listeners would have no memory of him/her doing anything other than singing a song, thereby getting away with murder or some other crime.
That whole process took me less than ten seconds, and you can do it too, with a little practice.
TV commercials are great sources of plot ideas, because they are already little stories in themselves. Next time you see a commercial, pay full attention to it and ask yourself a question – “what is the first thing about it that grabs my attention?” In my case, it was the singing, but it could be the landscape, the way a person looks, what they’re doing, anything. Whatever it is, remember it and then ask another question – how could I use that landscape/appearance/action etc, in a story? Of course, you will have to think in terms of your own genre, and maybe it’s easier for me as a science fiction writer. I can invent stuff and allow some things that would not fit into, say, historical romance for instance, but the principle is the same. Pay attention to what you’re seeing and hearing and ask yourself the questions. This will teach your subconscious mind to practice being imaginative with less stimulus.
You can do this anywhere and in any situation. I like listening to people’s conversations, and quite often I will hear something in the supermarket that gives me an idea. Again, ask yourself “how can that statement be used in a plot?”
Just to prove that this works for any genre, I’ve just watched a commercial for a supermarket chain. It showed two very famous celebrities going shopping in a market, talking to the stallholders and admiring the produce (meat, vegetables, fruit, bread etc). I asked myself “how can this be used for a romance story?” Immediately I see two strangers, a man and a woman, going shopping on a rainy day. The woman is stressed and is rushing to the market to find something for dinner. The man is happy and is wandering around trying to find something for his dinner. The man has just moved into the area and has great plans for his life, whereas the woman has a job she hates and is bored with her life. They both arrive at a stall selling meat, to find the stallholder has just one fresh chicken left. Both want the chicken, and the man, noticing how stressed the woman is, lets her buy it and goes elsewhere. Later, the woman arrives home to her apartment to find the same man has just moved into the apartment next door. They get talking and, well you can take the story from there.
I don’t write romance, I don’t like romance, but I have just come up with a perfectly serviceable romance plot from a TV commercial. If I can do it, anyone can do it. All it needs is a slight alteration in the way you observe everything, and a willingness to mentally interact with what you’re observing.
Trust your subconscious, let it work for you. You have the ability to be creative, all you need to do is access that ability.