Week 3

Where Do Ideas Come From?

Show Transcript

Nick [00:00:06]:
I said before that every book starts with an idea. For me, that’s been true. There are sometimes where I’ve had a character, or a set of characters who I know already because I’ve written them in a previous book maybe, or they’ve just been bouncing around in my head, and I’m like, I just have to write these characters. What should they do? And then that leads to an idea. So if you’re that way, fine. But I think most of the time, the vast majority of the authors I talk to, need to come up with an idea first, and that could be a little tricky if you’re just looking at a blank white canvas. So I’ve given you pictures of my books. Hopefully, that can inspire you.

Nick [00:00:41]:
No. I’m just kidding. I’ve got on the screen a bunch of pictures of my books. Just again, I’m looking at, you know, design. It doesn’t actually mean anything, but these are some of my books. So you’re welcome. However, each one of these books started with an idea. It started with some what if question.

Nick [00:00:56]:
Now these are all in 1 series, but I’ve used an idea to start every book that I’ve written for the most part. These, ideas, in my opinion, need to be easy to explain. Okay? They need to be explained in what’s called a high concept way. And I didn’t understand this meant at first, when I heard it a long time ago. I was like, well, high concept sounds like this really, like, lofty kind of almost pretentious idea, and that’s actually not what it means at all. It’s kind of the opposite. It’s really just a type of artistic work, that can be easily pitched with a succinctly stated premise now this is from Wikipedia. That’s their definition.

Nick [00:01:33]:
It’s really it’s the elevator pitch. Something that is very short, very sweet, very easy to understand to pretty much anybody. So if you’re gonna go pitch a Hollywood executive about your book idea, it needs to be high concept because they’re gonna wanna hear it in a shorter time as possible because we’re all busy. Right? So the idea, in my opinion, should be this very simple, easy to understand, easy to explain, high concept idea. And in order to do that, I put these 2 things together. I say that your high concept or your concept, is your idea and your plot together. So your idea again, I’m kind of talking in a circular way, but really your idea is this short high concept thing. The concept for your book then becomes the idea matched with your particular plot.

Nick [00:02:18]:
And we’re gonna get into what that means in later videos, but I want you to start thinking in terms of what your idea might be. For the scope of this course, it might be easiest to just start over with a book project. If you’ve got something you’re already working on, keep doing that. But when you’re listening to these videos, when you’re following along with the little handouts I’m gonna show you on the next slide, start over. Do something different. Start with something new because this is a whole new way of approaching how to outline a book. Again, I always say that, you know, I’m gonna talk about thrillers. I’m gonna show you what thrillers do, but this is gonna be easily translatable to any genre fiction, meaning any commercial fiction that people actually buy, meaning stuff that you actually sell.

Nick [00:02:57]:
So whatever you’re writing, if you’re here, listening from a romance standpoint or, you know, historical fiction, it doesn’t matter. All that stuff is stuff that sells. I do believe you need to start with an idea. How do we get that idea? Well, I think, the best way I’ve ever come up with to understand this was actually I started doing ads for some of those books I showed you on the previous slide, early on, for me anyway, when KDP, Amazon released their advertising program to us authors, I jumped in right away. And back then, you had to come up with some copy or text. It would show your image, your book cover, and it would give you a little paragraph of text. These days, you don’t have to use that. I actually got kicked out of that program, so I’m using a whole different platform called Amazon Advertising.

Nick [00:03:45]:
I think it’s what they changed. They have a branding problem as well. But it’s a whole different thing and it’s a whole different side. I don’t get to see k e and p pages read from anything I advertise. It’s a whole weird thing. But over there, they don’t even let you do text or copy. That’s a weird story. The whole point is back when I started doing advertising, you had to choose some copy.

Nick [00:04:06]:
And for me, the easiest way to come up with, copy was to think in terms of what are my 2 what what what 2 movies are my books like or stories that we all know, and movies were the obvious one to to tie in because most people who are browsing Amazon have seen Hollywood movies, famous movies. So for 1 book, for example, I used to say it was like National Treasure meets Indiana Jones. So it was less serious in some ways, but it was an action adventure, archaeological thriller. There were some keywords like rompy or pulpy that you could throw in but immediately, these things come to mind when you think National Treasure and Indiana Jones. So that’s one of the ways I like to think of an idea. I might think, what if Nazis meets bullet ants? Right? The little weird ants down in the Amazon rainforest that, like, you know, they bite you or sting you, whatever they do. It feels like you got shot with a bullet. What if you mix mix those with Nazis? Like, what were the Nazis, like, studying? Okay.

Nick [00:05:07]:
Then all of a sudden, I’ve got an idea. I can launch off that idea. I can go, okay. Well, okay. Maybe the the Nazis were, like, studying that. So where were they? Uruguay. It’s probably too far south. I don’t know.

Nick [00:05:18]:
Or, you know, when you put them in the Amazon somewhere, let’s just make them in Brazil, and this is 19 fifties or 19 thirties, I don’t know, somewhere around World War 2, so it gives us some some idea of setting, some idea of place. All of a sudden, here I go. I’m off to the races. Right? So that that becomes the idea. Again, this doesn’t have to be fully fleshed out. We’re gonna do that later. But it gives you a launching point, and that’s what the idea is, is a way to launch off and develop that into a concept. You can also use the blank on or in a blank.

Nick [00:05:46]:
So snakes on a plane. That’s literally the idea and they were like, alright. Let’s just make a movie out of it. I think we’re done here. Right? It doesn’t who cares about the dialogue? Let’s just say I’m tired of these mother effing snakes on a mother effing plane. We go. Let’s put Sam Jackson in. It’ll be great.

Nick [00:06:00]:
It worked for them. Why why wouldn’t it work for you? So blank on or in a blank. Bullet ants in a rainforest. Well, that’s that’s already there. That’s already where they live. So maybe Nazis in the rainforest. What are they doing? Oh, they’re looking at bullet ants. What are they trying to do? They’re trying to extract the serum and develop something they can use in their creepy evil eugenics program.

Nick [00:06:20]:
Great. That’s an idea. And then finally, the best one or the one that we most commonly use in all genres is what if. What if? What if there was this weird religion, that allowed us to see with our eyes closed and if we get this weird light sword that nobody knows how it actually works physically, we can combat other religious people that can jump around and fly, and one of them’s short and green. I’m pretty sure that’s what George Lucas used to come up with the idea for Star Wars, guys. I mean, this is pretty pretty easy. Don’t worry about, landing on anything yet. Just, you know, if you’ve got the worksheet in front of you, print it out or whatever, use this space as we kinda keep going to brainstorm.

Nick [00:06:57]:
We’re gonna talk about all this. We’re gonna come back to the idea. You’re gonna start developing characters, your, you know, Nazi eugenics program that happens in the rainforest with bullet ants, you wanna come back to this. So use the whole blank space I’ve given you to just jot these things down, to just work on this, as we go through the rest of the course. Deal? Okay. Cool. So you know what an idea is. You know what needs to be high concept.

Nick [00:07:19]:
And that by combining that idea with your plot, you get the concept for your book, the larger pitch that you might turn into a back cover description, for example, or the blurb. That’s what this all starts with as an idea. So, I hope this is helpful. Again, use this sheet or or your own paper, whatever you wanna do, and jot down some ideas, some what if questions, some of the the the prompts I’ve given you and come up with an idea that you can use to pull a plot out of as we keep going.

The Power of Generating Ideas for Writing

As an author, I’ve always believed that every book begins with a spark of an idea. This initial idea serves as the foundation on which the entire narrative is built.

In my experience, finding inspiration for a new story can come from various sources, but it’s crucial to understand the process of generating high-concept ideas that can captivate the audience.

In this lesson, I will delve into the art of generating ideas and how they form the backbone of a compelling plot for any story.

The Essence of an Idea

Every narrative, whether it’s a standalone novel or a series, originates from a core idea. This could be a character, a setting, or a specific scenario that intrigues and challenges the writer.

While some writers might already have fully formed characters or settings in mind, others may face the daunting task of starting with a blank canvas.

However, regardless of the starting point, it’s essential to focus on developing ideas that are easy to explain and comprehend.

These ideas should be high concept, allowing for a succinctly stated premise that can grab the audience’s attention effortlessly.

The Concept of High Concept

The term “high concept” might initially seem daunting, but in reality, it simply refers to an idea that can be easily pitched and understood by a wide audience.

It’s akin to an elevator pitch – a short and compelling summary that encapsulates the essence of the story.

Crafting a high-concept idea enables writers to capture the interest of potential readers, agents, or even Hollywood executives.

It’s essential to understand that your idea is the initial spark, while the concept pairs this idea with the plot to form a compelling narrative.

Unraveling the Creative Process

When it comes to envisioning high-concept ideas, there are various techniques that writers can employ.

One effective method is to draw inspiration from existing stories and movies. By juxtaposing familiar narratives, such as “National Treasure meets Indiana Jones,” writers can craft a unique and enticing idea.

Similarly, embracing the “what if” approach can lead to fascinating concepts.

By asking questions like, “What if Nazis meet bullet ants in the Amazon rainforest?” writers can spark their creativity and unravel intricate plot threads.

Embracing the Blank Spaces

The beauty of generating ideas lies in the freedom to explore boundless possibilities. It’s essential to embrace the blank spaces and use them as a canvas for brainstorming.

Whether it’s jotting down “what if” questions, developing characters, or unraveling the complexities of a plot, these blank spaces serve as a breeding ground for creativity.

They provide the writer with the room to nurture their ideas and transform them into compelling storylines.


In essence, as writers, mastering the art of generating high-concept ideas is the cornerstone of successful storytelling.

By understanding the power of an idea and its seamless integration with the plot, writers can embark on a journey of crafting captivating narratives.

The process of generating ideas should be seen as an invigorating exploration, where creativity knows no bounds.

So, embrace the unknown, challenge the conventional, and unleash the power of your imagination to breathe life into your writing endeavors.

By delving into the intricacies of generating high-concept ideas and understanding their pivotal role in shaping a narrative, writers can embark on a transformative journey that redefines their approach to storytelling.

Let your ideas soar, and watch as they unravel into gripping tales that resonate with audiences far and wide.

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