Burning old Sparklers: Getting ideas and bringing them to life

My daughter found a box of sparklers out of somewhere in the garage last night and she wanted to use them. I could not remember how long we had purchased them. I told her I didn’t think they would work but we might as well try. So we did. Some of them sparked and fizzled out after a moment. Some wouldn’t even light. We made our way through the box without much luck. For whatever reason, the very last one burst into brilliant green light and danced all the way to the bottom of stick!
There was much I could learn about getting ideas for writing a good horror story from that box of old sparklers.
For me, ideas come from everywhere. I get ideas from things people say or do. I get ideas from my dreams (I even know I get ideas that I can’t remember when I wake up and that pisses me off). I get ideas driving to work. I get ideas reading other horror stories. I don’t get ideas very often watching TV.
Getting ideas isn’t the hard part, as most people would probably agree. It’s developing them. It’s getting them to ignite and burn all the way down the stick.
For me, I like to write the idea down somewhere and so I can see it. I use Evernote app for that. If I am driving, I use the voice recorder on my phone and transcribe it.
The first thing I look for in an idea is: is the idea creepy? Something believable that can be wrapped enough to freak a person out. For example, the past couple of weeks I have been seeing (in my mind still) a shadowy old guy standing under an umbrella. I don’t know what to do with it but he scares me. I imagine him standing out in my front yard looking up into my bedroom window. Or I see him standing in a park watching kids play. He is a bad man but I haven’t got much farther with him…yet.
The second thing I look for in an idea is: who are the people in the story? Can I find people that go with the idea? The characters make or break any good idea. The characters have to be real people, just like you and me. They have to be emotionally engaging for the reader.
The third thing I look for in an idea is the context or setting. The blood and guts must be spilled in a world I, the writer, know about it. Unless its on another world or dimension! Then its all imaginary anyway. But I don’t think I can write a good horror story about a brain surgeon because that’s not my world. I need my ideas to be someone in my realm of knowledge and experience, maybe just on the far edge but still.
The fourth thing I look for in an idea is: is the idea expandable? Is there a credible story to develop around the idea? Like the tag line for my blog states, I like to write horror that sticks to your brain. I want it real and happening in real life. Is the idea a short story or is it huge enough to become a book? A good idea may not always be able to be the next great novel but it might make a real scary short story.
So those are my humble thoughts on building the basic framework out of an idea to decide if it something meaty enough to pursue. Most of my ideas are like the sparklers in the old box of fireworks. They just fizzle out. I guess next summer I will have to restock my sparklers. What do you think? How do you get ideas and how do you know if they are gems or duds?

Erik Gustafson


2 thoughts on “Burning old Sparklers: Getting ideas and bringing them to life

  1. It’s interesting that you say you need an idea to take place in the world you know — that you can’t write a story about a brain surgeon because that’s not part of your world. For me, it’s the opposite. I do best when I write about things outside of my experience — people I’ve never met, places I’ve never been. I get too bogged down in reality & facts when I write what I know. When I write about things outside my world, it frees my imagination to run wild & I have an easier time picturing them & making them seem believable.

    I guess that just goes to show how different creativity is for each of us. 🙂

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