Quick Writing Tip: Fortune Cookie Ideas

One of the questions authors get asked all the time is, “Where do you get your ideas?” This is the rough equivalent of asking a surgeon, “How do you know where to cut?” The answer to each is that it’s a combination of training and experience, study and a little bit of luck. (And, ask yourself, do you want your surgeon to be lucky or unlucky?)

The reason the answer to that question isn’t easy is because if you give the same germ of an idea to a hundred writers of all different experience levels, half of them wouldn’t even recognize it as a story idea, a bunch would see it as something vague, but a small and select class would be able to look at it and find a story there. And that select class could probably do it with any morsel you wanted to give them, or they’d be able to tell you why that idea isn’t sufficient for a story.

How do you develop the skills for recognizing a story idea? Simple: you work at it. You start with an idea and work at shaping a story around it. It’s kind of like putting together a puzzle. You match characters, motivations, situations and settings together and find the story.

What brings all this up is that my parents visited last week and we hit my favorite Asian restaurant in the Phoenix area, George & Son. The meals ended with, among other things, fortune cookies, and I saved both of my fortunes because they’re great story seeds. They read:

“If strength were all, tiger would not fear scorpion.”

“Adversity reveals genius, prosperity conceals it.”

I think these two little statements point to some interesting story ideas. The second one is clearly the theme of a story: a lazy, rich power baron thinks he’s all that; but the underdog he’s oppressing out-smarts him and defeats him. The first fortune actually coincides with this, or could be the theme of an insurgent band doing damage to a larger occupation army. It also causes me to wonder “what does the scorpion fear?”

Back in issue 96 of The Secrets I outlined a whole system of thought for processing similar things into storylines. That issue is entitled Blitzkrieg Plotting. It’s a great guide for teaching you how to process ideas and build them into vast and complex storylines. Click on the link or the graphic below to learn more.

And keep your eyes open. Almost anything becomes story fodder, if you know where to look.

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