How To Get An Original Idea

One of the things short story competition judges bemoan the most is that they hardly ever see an original story, or a really original idea.   Yet being original is one of the fastest ways to get into the shortlist.  Providing you can also write well, of course!

Is there actually such a thing as an original idea?

Maybe not.  But there are a lot of things you can do to make your story stand out from the crowd. Especially if the competition has a theme.  Here are my tips for finding an idea that’s different:

For the purpose of this exercise we’ll assume the theme of our imaginary competition is Loss.

So the first thing you should do is to write down all the ideas that spring to mind when you think of the theme loss.  These are mine. Some of them might be yours too.

Loss of job

Loss of spouse

Loss of child

Loss of house

Loss of pet

Loss of life

Loss of bag

There is a good chance that everyone else will think of these ideas too, so unless you have a really original slant, move on and list some more.

Loss of limb, finger, toe, eye

Loss of liberty

Loss of memory

Maybe we’re getting a few ideas that are a bit more lateral.  But let’s go on.

Loss of an identity (Alzheimer’s or another reason)

Loss of a parrot – or another unusual pet, think snake or hippo, or how about something mystical, a unicorn

Loss of a generation

Loss of a culture

Loss of a precious artefact

Hopefully there won’t be many stories with the above losses and I’m sure you can think of lots more. But let’s make it a bit more unusual.

What if you used a different structure as well? What if you used a diary structure, for example. I read a brilliant story recently (in a competition I was judging) where the author had used a diary structure, but, just as in the Time Traveller’s Wife the dates weren’t chronological.

Or you could tell your story entirely through taste, or smell, or perhaps dual viewpoint.

Or you could link the scenes with the same setting, for example the sea.

The diary story won the competition I was judging by the way!

Food for thought!

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7 Responses to How To Get An Original Idea

  1. Jo Derrick says:

    Hi Della! A great blog post. I was thinking about this very thing earlier today, having read Tania Herschmann’s The White Road. It’s a brilliant story. Have you read it? She got the inspiration from an article in New Scientist. It gave me the idea of looking in more unusual publications for an image or a setting.

    • Della Galton says:

      I recommend The Weekly News for quirky ideas too. It’s great! But New Scientist. Yes, definitely. Also there’s a magazine called How It Works – Adam my stepson is one of their editors as it happens – but it’s a great source of ideas because it’s jam packed with interesting facts.

  2. Writing down all the ideas that first come to mind and then not using them is a great idea.

  3. Karen says:

    What Patsy said!

    It’s always hard to come up with a new angle on a theme, but I do like a challenge. Great advice :o)

  4. I use mind-mapping to record my ideas. To begin with, doing it on paper and away from the screen. Later, I use a software tool.

    One of my novels is about the loss of a planet!
    That’s lost as in can’t find it, rather than loss by destruction.

  5. Kath says:

    Now why was my first thought loss of virginity?

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