As someone with a passion for creating, a writer and a filmmaker, I have a lot of stories that I want to tell the world. In this article, I break down for you the process of how to find story ideas, how to practice writing, how I collect ideas from my dreams, and more importantly what to look for when choosing a particular idea to develop. In the next article in this Idea to Story series, I will even share with you the exact idea that I am currently developing.
Hi and welcome back. If you are new here I am Ashik Satheesh, the writer and director of Munnariv (2020), Malayalam’s first iPhone feature film. Here we learn the intricacies of how to tell great stories and thereby make the world a better place, one story at a time. Idea to Story is a series that sheds light on the mysteries of the creative writing process by taking you along my own journey.
If you want a video or podcast version of the same in Malayalam, check here.
The Process of How to Find a Story Idea
You don’t have to find a story idea. You already have a lot of ideas in your head. You will keep having even more ideas as you walk around every day. We all get ideas when we are taking a shower, or driving, or sleeping. But these would hit us randomly. I had no process of collecting and storing them. So many times it has so happened that I would have a particular idea and do nothing about it. Then one day I would see someone else had made that into a film, and then I wonder why I never worked on that idea.
I had enough of that happening to me that one day I decided, no more. Now I have a wealth of ideas that I can develop into films for the next 5 years of my life, because I have this whole process for collecting ideas, noting them down and expanding on what resonates with me, which I’m going to break down for you. This process includes the following:
- Feeding your mind what interest you
- Use writing prompts
- Noting down your ideas
- Find stories among your ideas and develop them
Feeding Your Mind to Find Story Ideas
Just like for you to be doing anything you need to be having food, you have to first be feeding your mind with fresh ideas to be able to come with new story ideas.
Read What Interests You
What interests you? Science? Space exploration? If these are things that genuinely interest you, then you are already probably researching and studying them, because you are naturally drawn to them. Read more on topics that interest you. Let your brain ignite with such fresh ideas. Your brain will process these at night when you are asleep. This is where first building a habit of noting your dreams can then help you capture some of the ideas that your subconscious comes up with that nobody else can.
One of the oldest ways to find new ideas is to read fiction. This works even in this modern-day and age you know. Be it classics or comic books, it doesn’t matter. Whatever interests you, read that.
Use Writing Prompts
Another way to have new ideas is to use writing prompts. One of my chat story series, called Kichu and Devi came out of such a prompt.
For this, you can turn to modern-day tools. The two that I use are Wattpad and Terribly Tiny Tales (TTT), both of which are apps available for iOS and Android. Both of these can help you develop not only your writing skills but also an audience. Wattpad has a worldwide audience, while TTT is predominantly Indian, at least as of writing this.
One thing about TTT that might be especially useful to aspiring writers and filmmaker is their daily writing prompts. TTT sends you one prompt every day to write on. These will help you come up with new ideas. You can write on the prompts, share them in the app and reach new readers while developing your writing skills.
Note Down Your Ideas
The next job then is to document all your ideas onto a place where you can access them later. It is not as complex as you might think. It is just a note-taking app on my phone where I note down ideas, as and when it occurs.
I get most of my ideas from my dreams. Hence I always have my phone placed below my bed, on the floor. Whenever I wake up from a dream I take up my phone and write everything I can remember onto the notes app. I try to be as detailed as I can. If I am too sleepy then I take down points that will hopefully remind me of the dream the next day morning.
I have tried taking voice notes and voice to text notes. But neither worked for me. My sleepy voice notes were utterly indiscernible even to me. The process of writing it down in words seems to work the best for me. They force me to consciously try to convey the images in why head as clearly as I can. I go through that dream journal when I wake up the next day morning. Reading it reminds me of the dream in a lot more detail. If there are gaps then I write them down and elaborate.
Collecting the Ideas
Over months the ideas note gets bigger. Once I see that the app is taking time to open up then I know it is time to move them. I cut and paste all my notes onto a text file on my laptop. Over the years I now have a collection of such files with a lot of my dreams.
One thing you need to know is that the vast majority of such notes you take will be just ideas and not complete stories. These could be just a scene, an emotion, a character in a situation and so on. For every 100 ideas, there might two that could be considered as a story. As you can see you need to wade through a lot of junk before you can find a story idea of value.
Which Idea Should I Develop?
Let’s say you followed this process and now you have a bag full of ideas. These may have come from your dreams, the books you read, from writing, prompts and so on. But how do you know if an idea is worth pursuing and elaborating on?
The deciding factor is not the marketability or the saleability of the idea. At least not at this point. First, you need to get into the habit of noting down your ideas, practising your writing skills. Remember nothing comes without writing. You have to write and write. There is no getting away from that. Once you have learned to do that, then you can look into the marketability and saleability of those ideas.
I have two benchmarks that I use for knowing which idea I should develop further. Of every idea I ask myself the following two questions:
- Does this idea resonate with me? At this point in my life.
- Is this just an idea or is it a story?
The first is personal to each of us. But the second one is more important and let me talk about that for a bit.
How is an Idea Different From a Story
A lot of people come to me with very interesting scenarios and situations. Even I come up with such stuff. Some of them have managed to hold my curiosity for days. But then that’s it. It never goes anywhere. We all this one crazy idea or scene or character we believe is so out of this world that it is going to be a blockbuster. But they are just that, ideas. An idea can be called a story if and only if it has a beginning, middle and an end, however vague it might be currently.
This is not to say that you cannot develop an interesting idea into a full-fledged story with a beginning, middle and end. It just takes a lot of work, knowledge and experience to be able to do that. If you are starting out, you probably do not have those. Writing as such is a hard task, especially when you are beginning. Make it easier for you. To see if something is just an idea or if it has a story in it ask yourself if it has a satisfactory ending.
If I can do all of this and make a feature film, then you can too.
Summing up everything we discussed so far, this is how you can find story ideas:
- Read things that interests you
- Practice writing by following prompts on apps like TTT and Wattpad
- Keep a notepad, or your phone, to note down your ideas
- Develop the practice of writing down your dreams
- Distinguish ideas from stories, that is see if it has a beginning, middle and end
In the following episode of Idea to Story I will share with you the dream that I had, the exact words I wrote after waking up from my nightmare, which I am now turning into a story, a script, and finally a film that will hit houseful theatres by end of next year. For that and more subscribe to my newsletter and follow along with me on this journey, if you haven’t already. Let’s write great stories together. Thanks for reading.
Hey Aspiring Filmmaker,
I debuted my film career making a feature film for ₹5 lakhs ($7,000) on an iPhone. I’d like to help you do the same. So I wrote everything I learned into a book. It is now available on Amazon, called The Indian Indie Film (or Make Your Film for rest of the world). Enjoy!