Ideas Thoughts & Ideas

How to Generate Ideas

This morning in my web multimedia class a student was having a difficult time coming up with an idea for the next class project: to tell a story with a main character, a beginning, a middle, and an end. While the objective of the project was firmly set and relatively straightforward, the initial process of ideation (generating ideas) was the main difficulty. As the student asked, where do I start? Here are three places to start with generating ideas.

Place #1: Analyze the Objectives

For most of my class projects, I try to have enough information in the project objectives to hint at the project workflow. For this project, the storytelling component of the project was the crucial element, so let’s start with analyzing the different sequences of the storytelling process.

The beginning sequence introduces the character and the situation (s)he is in. Alternately, the beginning sequence shows what the character wants, but doesn’t have yet. The middle sequence is when the character goes after what (s)he wants or attempts to change the situation (s)he is in. The ending sequence is the resolution of the conflict the character experiences throughout the process of attaining what (s)he wants. A very basic outline of a story thanks to Steve Stockman’s informative book, How To Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck.

How about an example?

Beginning sequence: An overweight man is sitting at his desk and sees a magazine cover of a man with six-pack abs. The man realizes that he wants six pack abs, so he gets up and leaves his desk.

Middle sequence: The overweight man begins the exercise process. He tries to run, but stops after one second. He tries to lift weights, but cannot get the bar off the floor. He struggles.

End sequence: The overweight man returns to his desk and throws the magazine cover into the trash and continues on with his day.

Breaking down this process even further, the consistent element in each of the storytelling sequences is a character. But how do you choose who your character will be?

Place #2: Analyze Yourself

Ask yourself questions. What do you like to do? Is there a specific genre that you like to read or watch on TV? Do you like aliens, astronauts, cowboys, swimmers, dolphins, fish, lobsters, or hula dancers? What about action? Are you active? Do you run, swim, hike, or sit in front of the computer all day? Are you adventurous? What do you dream to accomplish one day?

As you answer these questions and mine your personal preferences, you can start to develop and build a story around that character.

How about another example?

Beginning sequence: Several lobsters are in a water tank in a restaurant.

Middle sequence: The lobster next to the main lobster is selected and cooked. All of the lobsters are panicking. How do we save ourselves?

Ending sequence: The main lobster pretends to be Spartacus and liberates the remaining lobsters by breaking free from the water tank and crawling to safety.

Place #3: Build a Library

Finally, a great place to generate ideas is by building a library of knowledge you can pull from and mash together. Collect books and movies, memorize moments in pop culture, read magazines, and watch YouTube videos. It is easy to build a collection of knowledge in today’s digital world using Pinterest and Evernote. You can also clip photos and typography from magazines.

The secret is having enough information in order to connect one idea to another. For example, applying the story of Spartacus to the world of restaurant lobsters.

How do you know you have enough information and when to stop collecting? You’ll never have enough. Just keep filing what you come across into your library. The more, the merrier. You never know when you’ll be able to use something as silly or serious as what you have just found.

There are a million ways to generate ideas and these are three simple places to start when it comes to the storytelling process. What has helped you in the ideation process?





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