The Comic Story…
I’m sometimes asked in interviews, ‘Where do your ideas come from?’ It’s an interesting question and truthfully, there is no right or wrong answer. I’ve always found ideas can originate from a multitude of sources at any given time, most often when you’re not searching for them at all. Making much sense? Probably not… but then that’s exactly what I mean.
Let me try and formulate the above in some digestible short-form answers:
Be influenced vs taking influence.
What do I mean by that? Surely this is the same thing? Well yes and no. I see taking influence from something to mean just that. You’ve seen a film, read a book and said to yourself, that’s what I want to create. You’re taking the core idea and putting it through your own blender, mixing the idea up just enough to become your own. This is a great way to keep the ideas flowing and generate fresh and relevant content. As a designer this is something I see on a near daily basis. Ideas are passed like a baton from one creator to the next, changed then passed on. There’s nothing wrong with this approach as long as you not blatantly ripping off the previous idea and painting it as your own. Always be respectful to your source material.
Being influenced is something else altogether. It’s experiencing something enough that the idea forms from outside of the source material. It’s like watching Private Ryan and wanting to write a war film vs watching Private Ryan and wanting to write a story about heroism and self-sacrifice in the face of overwhelming odds. Being influenced can stir powerful emotions, it can generate the passion that resides only within you and no-one else. It’s a message that needs to be told in ways nobody else can communicate, and it can be the most personal and satisfying ideas of them all.
Break the rules.
Most ideas follow the same rules and formula which broadly follow a familiar path from opening set-up through to conflict and resolution. Along this path will be additional stages such as progression, higher stakes, set-backs, etc...
If your aim is to make a film or a TV show, then yes, this framework will be the bedrock of your idea. Nearly every story you watch on TV or read in a book will follow this trusted formula. It doesn’t mean you have to approach it in the same way when thinking about your own concept. This is the development stage of your idea when you should be pushing the rules, breaking out of the stereotypical path and forging ahead on your own. Sure, you’ll probably wind up back on the same familiar road because the story naturally takes you that way but don’t be afraid to break from convention and try something different. You may discover characters and scenarios you hadn’t even dreamed of.
Understanding your audience.
This point has become my mantra of late, but without understanding ‘who’ your audience is, how will you know your idea is going to resonate with them (unless you are channeling the spirit of Kevin Coster from Field of Dreams)? From studio executives to the fan in the street, you should have a good idea of the age bracket of your target audience. If you can’t pin down the demographic then how will you know what language you should be using within your narrative. Will sticking in a few swear words reduce your target audience and give your idea an edge? Or will make it appeal to teens give you that market penetration your idea desperately needs? Having a good understanding of your readers before you start will help set the tone of your idea. When I create an idea I always try to steer it towards a set group I believe will connect with it.
Ideas can come from anything and from any direction. It could be a conversation, a piece of music that inspires you or a feeling at from any given moment. Creativity, you should be a sponge, absorbing every tiny detail from your working day. Do you have a long commute? Then watch what is going on around you, imagine the stories your fellow commuters hold behind their phone obsessed fixed stare. Feed off these moments and try to channel these thoughts into a creative muse. There are even ideas in routine; just because something is boring doesn’t mean there isn’t a gem of a story there… somewhere.
Write them down!
My memory is the worst, especially when it comes to the matter of remembering the numerous ideas I have. I quickly learned that I need to keep all my sparks of inspiration in one easy-to-reach place (on my laptop for those wondering) -I admit, it’s grown into a massive list of mad ramblings but they’re there for the future. Sometimes it’s just a line or two, other times it’s a whole page. Be active and keep adding to it. The worst thing you can do is have a spark of inspiration in the shower and forget it by the time you walk out of the house. I’ve lost so many good ideas by not putting them down as quickly as possible at that moment.
Let it brew for a while.
The best ideas can take months even years to come to the boil. Give them time to grow, try to develop the story every day you think about them. Bat around different scenarios and play out different outcomes. Just because you’re not finalising that idea right now doesn’t mean you can’t think about it. I often let an idea bubble away in my mind before deciding write it out fully. There’s nothing wrong in giving your idea time to grow from a good idea into a great one. If you followed my advice from the point above and kept your idea in one handy place, it should be a simple matter of referring to your notes to pick up the creative trail once again.
Don’t be afraid to step away.
Ideas are fickle beasts, they are wild and are hard to tame. If an idea is being particularly difficult, step away. Do something else, centre yourself and clear your mind of it. There’s no sense in beating yourself up or forcing the idea. You’ll only end up doing it, and yourself a disservice.
It’s not a race… it’s a journey.
Once you settle on your idea, don’t sell yourself short by rushing through to get to the end. It’s not a race to be first across the finishing line, it’s a journey that needs to be savoured at every stage. Like a country walk, stop and review where you’ve been, take in what's around you, and look at what lies ahead. It’s important to find time to take a breath, be steady with your writing, make sure you are hitting your beats and your ideas will flow naturally.
As ever, you'll find me on Twitter: @AndiEwington