Sunday, December 23, 2012


Last December I wrote about how Christmas is Inspiring. In the article, I covered how to use Christmas to your advantage: using the ready-made character sets and letting yourself loose with a fun, quirky story. This year I’m going to discuss inspiration again, but this time specifically focus on how I generate ideas. This list won’t work for everyone. Some people won’t find the same things inspirational as I do. I will describe my top three techniques to generate ideas. Bear in mind that you will have to take on the role of some unusual characters.

Toilet based inspiration
Image courtesy of
Character 1:  The Faux-eco-nutter
Next time you go to the toilet at night, don’t turn the bathroom light on. People around you will think you an eco-nutter, but really you’re not trying to save the environment (I guess that just leaves nutter, then). Whilst you relieve yourself of urine and faeces, let your mind wander. Direct it down paths your characters could take, but then twist it at the last moment. The reason you do this in the dark is that images form in your mind much easier without glaring lights.
This technique is fantastic for generating fantasy fight ideas. If you go in knowing you want a fight, turn the lights off, sit on the bog and let rip (with ideas, of course). If you are anything like me, you will get fight scenes popping into your head a rate of ten a second. If any idea lingers, let it. Toy with it. Remember you are in the dark, nobody will see if you start waving your hands around to manipulate the scene unfolding in front of you.
Once you’ve finished you excretion get up, wipe, and flush. Then whilst washing your hands (still in the dark) you can finalise your concept. Work out who wins, and, equally importantly, who starts the fight. Now, with your bowels emptied and your hands cleansed you may leave the bathroom, no doubt to the concerned eyes of your co-habitants.

Character 2:  The Virtuoso
This one isn’t quite as mad as the first character, but if you get into it, your hands start conducting and well...

Put some music on. This can’t have any words as you are using the music not lyrics to generate ideas. I find Classical music and Jazz work best for this. Listen through loads of music until you find one that clicks. You’ll know when this happens:  it will move you; it will whisk you away to another world inside your imagination.

If you’re stuck for a piece, try Rachmaninov’s Morceaux De Fantasisies, Op. 3 – Prelude in C Sharp Minor (Video above). The piece travels through many ‘emotions’ with its extremes of dynamics and excellent phrasing. The first few seconds of the song are like a royal entrance, but it quickly dies down into what could be an assassin sneaking up on the king, or even a lowly peasant watching the proceedings. It stays like this until around one minute forty, at which point I like to think of a dance like fight between the assassin and guards. If you’re taking the peasant idea, this could be the moment when he realises he’s had enough of being the bottom and builds up some courage. Then in the moments leading up to two minutes , the fight goes to a staircase (or the peasant starts standing upright). Then is the moment where the character strides towards the king. The king turns around and sees this figure approaching him. He stands guard and then the two circle each other in predatory way. The tension builds, but the intensity lowers at three minutes. Everyone knows something is going to happen, but what? Then the piece ends. For me it is a cliff-hanger ending, perfect for a chapter break.

If Jazz is more your scene, try Round Midnight, performed by Cootie Williams and Thelonious Monk. For me a scene of laid-back discussion and pipe smoking comes to mind. The conversation is of an important nature, but neither participant seems to be too concerned. There is a slight repetition to the piece, which implies the conversation isn’t really going anywhere.
But, perhaps the piece could be interpreted differently. Maybe the piece represents a character who has just won at something, a deal perhaps. He’s left the room knowing he’s successful, and is happy. If it were a film, this song could be played over a montage switching between the successful character and the character who lost out.
Of course, every song will mean something different to different people. If you are after a Classical or Jazz piece for a specific kind of scene you want ideas for let me know and I’ll have a think.

Character 3:  The Anxiety Maker
This one will get you the weirdest looks of all and perhaps a restraining order. You can do this anywhere, privately or publicly. I like to do this when someone is droning on about something I don’t care about. Simply stare into empty space. Let your mind be filled with ideas. If you don’t get a sudden influx of ideas, it may be an idea to lead your own mind. If there is a plot point you’re stuck on think about it, both specifically and in general terms. What ideas have you already got that could fix it? Work through those first and then new ones will naturally follow. It’s also funny when people start wondering what you’re staring at and get really anxious.
The title Anxiety-Maker also describes another technique – people watching. Granted this is where the restraining order may come in. Randomly choose a person in the same room as you. Without attracting too much attention work out as much as you can about them. Now fill in the gaps. It is a great way to come up with quirky, realistic characters. For example, there may be a person in a restaurant who has rosy cheeks and a rather large belly. From that you can deduce that they eat too much and have recently had a bit to drink. But what if they led a secret life as a part-time dragon slayer? Or perhaps they own a fairy farm?

So, if you’re ever stuck for an idea, try stepping into the shoes of the Faux-eco-nutter, Virtuosic, Anxiety Maker.

A slightly different version (one without videos and slightly inaccurate timings) can be found here.

Matt B


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