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Ideas aren't as hard to come up with as it seems. No, the problem isn't getting the idea--it's figuring out a good idea that readers will enjoy vs. a bad one that won't. And also, its figuring out which would best fit your idea (short story, magazine article, novel etc.).
A good way to come up with an idea is this: "What if?" What if a detective investigating a crime scene was murdered? What if the murderer actually takes his place as a detective to mess up the investigation at the crime scene the detective was originally investigating?
What if there was a robot that could love? (A.I.)
What if a young boy was actually a boy born with a capability that normally drove men mad? (The Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordan)
What if there was a ring that a young "man" had to destroy in a fiery mountain? (The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkein)
A few ways to quickly come up with an idea:
*Invent lives for everyday strangers you see around you
*Think about something that has happened to anyone you know. What if things had gone differently?
*Write an opening "hook" or sentence
*Rewrite legends and fairy tales as modern stories
For magazine articles, non-fiction books, etc, even if you are writing on a negative topic, don't be negative. If you are writing about AIDS, don't be dark and dreary. Even though it's a negative topic, you should still be positive. An example is "The Physics of Star Trek" by Lawrence M. Krauss. He doesn't tell us that warp speed is impossible; no, he is posotive and simply tells about the things that would be needed to achieve such a goal.
Things that make bad ideas are things such as something that might be important to you or things that are true. Just because something that happened in your life that you want to write about doesn't make it a good idea (I am not saying that you can never have good ideas that have come from your expieriences). And, just because your uncle Bob was married seven times, that doesn't make it a good idea.
Good ideas come from things such as the following.
World: Strong stories take you to new worlds, rich and interesting places. A person whom works in an insurance agency doesn't want to come home and read about an insurance agency. No, he wants characters dealing with dilemas he hopes he is never faced with but that cause strong emotion responses, such as: Do I take the helicopter off of the island of mutants, or go back into the jungle to save my sun, hoping another will come?
The world of Michael Chrichton's Jurrasic Park is a theme park.
The world of t.v. shows ER and Chicago Hope aren't just physical worlds (hospitals) but also the world of medicine. In all, your story should be unique in your world.
Active Characters: What if in the movie, The Fugitive, instead of being the one blamed for killing his wife, Harrison Ford plays the man who watches everything?
What if, in the movie Die Hard, John McLane is actually a man who sits back and calls the cops, waiting for them to arrive?
Instead, we need active characters. A reader doesn't want to read a book about someone who watched the whole Jurassic Park dilema from an airplane. No, they want to read about Dr. Grant, and the kids, and John Hammond, etc. Without active characters, there is no emotional power behind your story.
Goals: I talked about this in my "Goal Posts". I'll be brief here: What does a character want? Inner peace? To marry someone? A nicer computer? Let's talk about inner peace. All in all, it isn't that exciting of a goal. But what if your character is going to climb Mt. Everest to find inner peace? Different story.
Stakes: If the stakes are high in your story, the story is going to be emotionally powerful and interesting. Is the world going to be exterminated in the year 2680, so Earth has to send a fleet of ships to destroy the alien mothership? The stakes are high. It would make for an interesting story. But what if the stakes are that a man is going to poison all pigeons? Did he get his goal? Who cares! The stakes aren't high enough.
A good idea isn't hard to find. Just look in the right places.
...And they did shake the world with battle.