Week 4

Where Do Ideas Come From?

Show Transcript

Nick [00:00:06]:
Alright. It’s been a brief delay. If you have been here the whole time, you’ll know that there’s been a few days since the last video was uploaded, but all because I was at a conference teaching this exact course. So you should feel lucky. This has been tested now. This has been trial. This has been proven in the workforce. I’ve got the course creation hoodie on, and we are ready to rock, ladies and gentlemen.

Nick [00:00:31]:
So thank you for being here. We’re gonna talk briefly about the plot. I know the whole course is about the plot, but this one is about developing kind of the overarching goal your plot, we’ll have or I should say the problem, your plot might be trying to solve. Or another way to say that is is the the the problem your characters in your in your book will be trying to solve. And as I’ve said a 1000 times, I’m gonna give you some more thriller specific examples, than anything else, but the point of this isn’t that you have to now write a thriller. It’s that you can see where, where you might change certain, certain pieces of of this, I guess. Right? Pieces of content. So I’m gonna give you what I call my formula.

Nick [00:01:18]:
And I always put quotes I always put formula in quotes because formula is a bad to us writer people, but it’s it’s really it’s really just a way of thinking about what my plot is going to be about. Okay. And I know I’m being very vague and and and nonspecific, but, we’ll get there. Don’t worry. I’ve got a slide that shows what this looks like for some of my books. Now this isn’t what I use for every single one of them. This is just to give you an idea of how you might start picking up pieces of these, these ideas and and germs of concepts we picked up along the way and and start putting them together in a way that you can now develop into a plot, into what is literally a chronological order of events. You know, when you write, we we typically write linearly.

Nick [00:02:03]:
Now we don’t have to. We we can write the last chapter and then we can write the midpoint and go back and fill in it, we can certainly do that. When we when we have the outline at the end of this course, you’ll be able to do that. If you wanted to to drop in and, you know, write a certain section during bad guys close in, instead of writing the all is lost scene after or whatever. You can do whatever order you want. The point is, you know, before you even get there, it it helps to conceptualize where your book is going. And for my books, which are action adventure thrillers, the kind of almost rompy, pulpy type fiction like Indiana Jones or National no treasure. What I like to do is have a little, again, formula in quotes.

Nick [00:02:46]:
Now this isn’t a formula that’s going to give us an entire plot start to finish. This is just something that we can tack on these ideas too and then flesh them out as we go. So as I’ve said before, like, every good novel has a plot, so it helps to think about this stuff beforehand. And, literally, this is just what happens in the novel. What is the book about? And plot is that in chronological order from start to finish. So what happens at the beginning? What happens in the middle? What happens at the end? What are some of the thematic points you wanna hit when you are plotting? Another way of thinking about that is what are some interesting elements that you wanna throw in there? Right? Are we gonna have Nazis be the bad guys? Are we gonna have some subset of, you know, the Catholic church be, you know, the the good guy or the bad guy, whatever it is. Those are things that you can throw in and mix them around and turn into a plot. I again, I believe thrillers specifically need to nail the plot.

Nick [00:03:41]:
They need to really, really get this right in home in on this, but other genres can certainly benefit from getting this right as well. It helps to think about this stuff ahead of time is the point. Okay? So I’ve kind of talked around it. Let me give you some specifics here. My personal formula. Like, this is what I use when I’m first conceptualizing a book. Right? We’ve done the idea phase, the previous videos, and we’re gonna do some more structural stuff after. But in this kind of phase where I am or my headspace is is I’m trying to figure out what to put in the book.

Nick [00:04:11]:
What do I wanna write and I’m not really thinking about the theme or the specific character. I’m just thinking what what are some fun ideas? And so I’ve developed this little thing, and it’s just 3, fill in the blanks really that helped me get to that point. So for example, my formula is I wanna have something scientific in the book. Is there something the bad guys can have that, you know, they’re gonna use to take over the world like a scepter of fate or, you know, whatever the thing is. Right? A luma fate in that one movie that was something scientific. Can we give them something that’s scientific or pseudoscientific? I say the word the word scientific. Again, this is a catchall that means something interesting that’s based on technology or based on something tangible. And then I try to explain that well using science even pseudoscience, but the point is to give my readers an explanation of that.

Nick [00:04:58]:
So I might use something like bullet ants in the Amazon was the example I gave in the course that I taught. Bullet ants aren’t themselves necessarily scientific, but what if we were using the, venom? Is it venom? Poison? Whatever it is, extracting that, and the bad guys were doing something with that. They were trying to use it as a paralysis tool or whatever. You can start to see how how your mind wand wanders, and that’s that’s good. So you can take notes. I’ll give you a worksheet after this to do exactly that where you just let your mind brainstorm. There’s no bad ideas at this stage. Right? Just let yourself flow.

Nick [00:05:32]:
So bullet ants, okay, well, that implies a location because bullet ants exist where? Well, I believe it’s the Amazon, the rainforest, not the bookstore. And so, you know, we have a place now, so that might be number 3, some someplace exotic. Is there someplace we can take readers where they haven’t been before? Where it’s unlikely that they they will have gone somewhere? I’ll talk about that more in a second. The second thing I wanna give is, something historic. You know, I wanna bring in either a prologue, you know, a hook that’s a prologue to the beginning of the book structurally or even flashbacks throughout the book. We can do all these sorts of things. We can literally bring the history into our story better. But it doesn’t have to be a flashback or a pro prologue.

Nick [00:06:11]:
It can literally be set today. Think in terms of, like, Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone series. Those are all modern day thrillers. They’re set now. He works, he was a bookstore guy, right, and and works around books and studies history and knows all this kind of stuff. Any is a wealth of knowledge about history. And this is a type of character where we can easily bring history into their life because they know it. So, for example, I like to have a bad guy that is tied to something historic.

Nick [00:06:37]:
So maybe Nazis, maybe they’re Neo Nazis now, or maybe they’re not even technically related to Nazis, but they just feel like Nazis, because we all love to hate Nazis. So why not do something like that. Knights Templar is another example of something historic. They’re real. It’s a real organization that existed. We as thriller authors get to make things up, and so you can literally make up something, but it it it works really well if you latch that onto, something historic. And, again, this isn’t thriller specific necessarily. You can do this in any genre.

Nick [00:07:07]:
Certainly, historical fiction. Right? But romance can absolutely do this. Right? You can have a character who’s got ties to World War 2 in some way. A grandfather, an uncle, you know, grandma, whatever. And and and there’s something historic about that thread, that character’s life that you can bring in. So so think in terms of that, something scientific, something historic. And then I mentioned this before, some some place exotic. I like to put my readers who I consider armchair travelers, right, sometimes real world travelers, but, they’re they’re they’re reading a book because they want to feel like they’re somewhere else.

Nick [00:07:41]:
Right? They wanna be brought into a new world. So if you’re writing fantasy, the world that you create is the place you’re taking them. In my books, in a lot of books that are set now in in this world, you you can benefit from having the book set someplace your readers may not go. I always joke about this because, I’m lazy when it comes to well, I’m not lazy when it comes to research. I love doing research, but I have to make myself not do it because I’ll just get carried away. I’ll go down the rabbit hole. And so what I like to do is, like, force myself to be lazy about these places that I’ve never been and probably will never go to. So, like, for example, I could get on a cruise ship and go to Antarctica and walk around the ice and all that, but I’m really not gonna spend much time there most likely.

Nick [00:08:22]:
You know, I’m not an explorer, and most of my readers aren’t either. They’re not gonna go to these places. And so by by doing a little bit of research, I can make these places feel real. Where we get in trouble as authors is if we make them so over the top, by putting, you know, things like a lush tropical jungle in the middle of Antarctica. Well, our readers are kinda, you know, smarter than that. They know that that’s probably not gonna exist. So we have to be careful with someplace exotic. We can’t just say, oh, well, Philadelphia is, you know, this bombed out shell of a city that doesn’t exist anymore.

Nick [00:08:51]:
Well, that’s not true because it literally is I I know I know it’s there. Right. So, someplace exotic can be someplace that we’re used to, that we readers are used to, but you have to do a much better job building that world and making it accurate. And that’s when it helps to go to a place. So I like to put it a place where I can I can do a little bit of research, but I don’t have to go visit in order to get it right? We all have a preconceived notion of what the Amazon rainforest is like. It’s probably wet. It’s probably lush. There’s probably things growing there.

Nick [00:09:20]:
So there’s some some way and I can do quick research with this by by just doing a Google first. Right? I can I can literally go and, find some some examples of what the rainforest looks like, and this is a great way to do some research? So. Be thinking in terms of of this, when you’re designing your plot, when you’re putting some ideas together. If you’re like me, you’ve got, like, a swipe file. Mine’s digital now, but you could literally have a folder of articles from, like, National Geographic, Popular Science. These are examples, that I use in thriller world, but, you know, there may be something that you, US Weekly. Whatever it is, whatever you read, whatever magazine inspires some of your creative juices to start flowing. You can tear out these pages and put them in a folder.

Nick [00:10:04]:
Again, I do this digitally now. So if I come across an article that’s interesting, I’m gonna put it in a swipe file because I might be able to use it in one of these stories. If it’s something scientific or historic or exotic a place, then I might be able to say, hey. I’m gonna keep this in mind because I’m a I wanna write about this sometime. So as I’ve said, there’s some examples, that I’ve given you a couple of the bullet ants I already used, but, things like the Gympie Gympie tree. I don’t know if you’ve know know is, I’ll let you Google it. It’s pretty crazy. But of course, it’s in Australia, and of course, it’s trying to kill us all all the time.

Nick [00:10:33]:
Really, really scary kinda thing you could give the bad guys. It could be extracting the needles of the Gympie Gympie tree or whatever the hell it has, and trying to use it for, you know, nefarious purposes. But there’s all kinds of fun stuff you could throw on here. Lasers, those are real. We can do some cool stuff with lasers. Levitation isn’t necessarily real, but using something like magnets, maybe you can get people to levitate. Don’t know. The iron in the blood? Whatever.

Nick [00:10:54]:
The rods from God program, if you’ve never heard of this, it’s where you, like, shoot a piece of rebar out of a satellite and it blows up a whole city block. Cool stuff. Terrifying. Right? Twins, I just put that on there because I think twins are I don’t sorry. If you’re a twin, I apologize. I think you’re amazing, but kinda creepy too. It you look the same as someone else. It’s really weird.

Nick [00:11:12]:
You could totally use that for for something in a book. I’m just saying, you know, whatever. You don’t have to do it. Whatever. Don’t kill me. Something historic, let’s just move on. The Roman Empire, Knights Templar, I mentioned, Freemasons. Nazis are good bad guys.

Nick [00:11:25]:
Dynastic Egypt, Mayan civilization, Aztec, Inca, you know, whatever it is, you can Eskimo. Like, whatever civilization, has existed or does exist or, you know, whatever culture you wanna use, you can certainly do that and call it something historic if there’s some history there that you wanna bring into your book. But the point is, if, you know, by by by picking one of these in each category, you can almost, forced your brain to start thinking of creative connections. How are Eskimos connected to, you know, levitation? I don’t know, but let’s figure it out. That that sounds like a fun book. And then someplace exotic, you know, that one might be set in Alaska or, I apologize. Wherever the Inuit tribes live, I guess, would be northern territory. I don’t know if it’s Eskimo specifically, but whatever.

Nick [00:12:08]:
You know where I’m going with this. Volcanic islands, caves are fun. I always put Harvey Bennett in a cave because he hates caves. Just kinda something that builds the tension right away, builds that conflict in. Some extreme hot cold, places, you know, put them at the bottom of the ocean, put them on the moon. You know, we’re we’re we’re able to do all kinds of stuff as writers that we couldn’t do in real life, so do that. Take advantage of that. Vatican archives.

Nick [00:12:32]:
I’ve got a friend who used to work there, and he tells me it’s totally not as secret and mysterious and cool as we all think it is that Dan Brown made us think, which is exactly what somebody who worked at the Vatican archives would say. Right? Of course. Totally a place that’s exotic in my mind. I want to be taken to the Vatican archives in a book and be shown all these secret, you know, ancient ritualistic type books. I don’t know. Natural wonders of the world, right for the picking. Right? Let’s just figure out where The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were I mean, I don’t know how many times I’ve discovered Atlantis because it’s not a natural wonder. But, you know, like, you can do that kind of stuff and totally get away with it in a book even if it’s not a thriller because your readers want to go somewhere with you.

Nick [00:13:12]:
So I like to start with this kind of stuff because it forces my mind to make these connections. Like I said, I could put, the Gympie Gympie tree and dynastic Egypt and the bottom of the ocean together and just make a book out of that. I would have to force some things, but that’s part of the fun. And it just helps get my mind flowing and and get the creativity down so I can start taking some notes and and building a plot around that. Fair? Alright. So there’s a worksheet here I’ll I’ll upload. You can find this as PDF. Now this is all, you know, design and stuff.

Nick [00:13:43]:
So there may not be enough room to write on it, but just use a scratch piece of paper. Build your own something something something someplace, whatever. Fill in the blanks yourself and then give yourself some examples. So if it’s not someplace, exotic, what is it that that you want to do in your book? Is it someplace homey. Is it someplace fun? Is it someplace nostalgic? Whatever the word is that would fit your genre. Again, you can redefine this every single time for every book. You don’t have to keep it going and write every book to this formula. I say this is my formula because I use this for my Harvey Bennett series.

Nick [00:14:18]:
But guess what? Other series, I have a different formula. Right? Maybe the place is the same for your series. Maybe you’re gonna be in a medieval castle because that’s where your book takes place. Great. Don’t worry about that. This is just a way to get your juices flowing. We’re thinking about plot here. We’re thinking about ideas.

Nick [00:14:34]:
Structuring things comes later. At this point, we just wanna brainstorm. Okay? We just wanna throw some things out there. So I give you this to play with. Play with it. Do some homework. Do some brainstorming. Ping me if you have any questions on it, but this should be fun.

Nick [00:14:47]:
Take have some time take some time and have some fun, and, and we’ll see you on the next video.

Discovering the Essence of Plot

I’m Nick, and as an experienced instructor and author, I am constantly exploring new methods to invigorate and enliven the plots within my novels.

In this lesson, I will dive into the insightful teachings I’ve shared, shedding light on a formula that has proven invaluable in my quest to conceptualize and structure engaging plots.

Significance of Plot Development

For me, the plot serves as the lifeblood of any engaging narrative. It propels the story forward and captivates readers, driving them to eagerly unravel the intricacies of the tale.

I’ve come to realize the paramount importance of deliberate deliberation ahead of the writing process, recognizing that careful planning can lay the foundation for a compelling storyline.

In my own writing, I use a “formula,” or a framework that writers can utilize to initiate the early stages of brainstorming.

Despite the term “formula” often carrying restrictive connotations, I believe it is a tool designed to stimulate creativity and guide the preliminary stages of plot ideation.

My formula incorporates three core elements, with the first focusing on introducing something scientific into the narrative.

Encouraging writers to intertwine intricate technological concepts or scientific phenomena, this facet ignites the imagination and sparks ideas that can seamlessly integrate into the storyline.

The next element of the formula encourages the infusion of historical depth into the narrative, linking captivating historical contexts with contemporary storylines. This integration enables writers to infuse their plots with a captivating fusion of historical intrigue, enriching the narrative with depth and complexity.

The formula’s final element revolves around immersing readers in exotic and unexplored settings. This aspect resonates deeply with the desire to transport readers to unfamiliar territories, infusing a sense of wonder and adventure into their literary journey.

Unleashing Creativity and Inspiration

By interweaving the elements of this formula, writers can foster creative connections and uncover captivating narrative threads.

This dynamic fusion of scientific intrigue, historical depth, and exotic locales offers a treasure trove of potential to craft enthralling and unique plotlines.

It is crucial to recognize that the formula is not a rigid template, but rather a catalyst for creative exploration.

Writers should feel empowered to adapt and redefine the formula for each novel, tailoring it to suit the distinctive requirements of each narrative, enhancing its efficacy as a tool for ideation and plot structuring.

I have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of this formula in shaping compelling stories.

By amalgamating scientific intrigue, historical depth, and exotic settings, writers can embark on a creative odyssey, steering readers through captivating literary landscapes.

Ready for More?

You’ll get the next video next week, but if you’d rather not wait — and unlock all 5 modules and 54 videos — check out Outlining for Authors.