Panning for Gold-Finding Your Best Ideas

Ideas are a dime a dozen for us creative types. Often they come in the most inopportune moments or lead us on bunny trails mid-scene. And yet, when we go to decide what happens in the next scene, we often find our brains zone in on the obvious or worse go blank.
Finding Your Best Ideas

Finding our best ideas for a scene is like panning for gold. We have to sift out the 90% that is just dirt and then analyze the last 10% to determine what is fool’s gold and what is real gold.

Being time crunched writers, we need to learn to do this as efficiently as possible. So here are some steps to help you through the process.

Decide what the purpose of the scene is.

You have to dip into the muck of the story problem. Does your main character needs to encounter the antagonist? Do they need to have their wound poked? Do they need to have a mirror moment where they look into their own soul?

Break up the dirt clods.

You have a purpose now you need to figure out what kind of situation the protagonist can be in to encounter that situation. This is usually the hardest part. Sometimes there is a logical next step in the story, other times anything can happen.

If you have a man who has just committed a crime and is on the run from the police where would he go? How would he get there? Would he steal a car and drive until he ran out of gas? Would he run to a friend’s house? Would he take off on foot and find some place to hole up?

If you know the purpose of the scene it makes it easier to break up all the potential ideas

Filter out the obvious idea stuff.

Sometimes you have a scene idea in your head because that’s the logical thing that must happen next. If your character is on a road trip and they need to encounter another character they are obviously going to have to stop somewhere and get out of the car. Most writers would have them stop at a motel, fast-food restaurant, or gas station, or maybe break down on the side of the road.

But that’s so obvious. That’s what the reader expects. So what is the NOT-so-obvious way for the protagonist to encounter the antagonist for the first time? Could they get a phone call? Pick up a hitchhiker? Hear the person on the radio? See them on a billboard on the side of the road?

Come up with 5-10 alternatives for your next scene.

You got some good ideas that could be potential gold.

At this point you should spend about 10 minutes just brainstorming the top ideas. What kind of billboard would the antagonist be on? What kind of radio song/program/commercial? If they’re a hitchhiker what would they look like? What would their story be? Why would your MC stop for them?

After you work out the ideas, pick the three most interesting.

Finding the gold.

In the end, you have to choose the best idea. You have to separate the fool’s gold from the real gold.  How?  Run it by a writing partner or another published author you know to get feedback on the uniqueness and quality. If you don’t have a supportive group of writers now is the time to find one. You don’t have to share your ideas with the world, but 2-3 trusted sound boards are essential.  Try and find people in your genre who have more experience than you do.

If you are still not ready to share the idea, then pick the most unique one. James Scott Bell says that often the last idea you came up with is the one that has the most potential.  Go with your gut. Which one really fulfills the purpose of the scene? Which one can carry some symbolism or foreshadows future events?

When you find your gold. Write a quick and dirty scene. The worst that can happen is you find fool’s gold.  Toss it and go back to your top three list and choose another.  The key is not to play it safe and predictable.  Real gold isn’t easy to find.

Any other advice you would give to someone looking for the golden ideas for a scene?

Jessica is a prayer warrior who loves to encourage and teach others how to create safe spaces for the hurting and lost. In 2014, she graduated from Western Governor’s University with a B.A. in Educational Studies and published her first book, Surviving the Stillness. She has written for several blogs and online magazines and is an admin and contributor for 10 Minute Novelists. She also created and manages their annual 365 Writing Challenge, which encourages writers to develop the habit of writing daily. You can learn more about her at her website, authorjessicawhite.wordpress.com or on Facebook.

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