A + B = X (The Idea Formula)


I’ve been listening to “The Secrets” podcast by Michael A. Stackpole, and he has some interesting things to say about where story ideas come from. He says that original ideas are everywhere, we just need to learn how to create them (operative word here is ‘create’… not ‘wait’). He then discusses the process of taking a common concept and “turning it on its head.” You do that by swapping the identifying attributes of the idea with something new and unusual, or exploring it from different angles.

Consider Twilight. For centuries, vampires were ugly, malicious beasts with an incessant hunger for human flesh. Now, thanks to the Twilight Saga, they are tall, pale hunks with pouty lips and an incessant hunger for love. (I’m basing this on what I’ve heard. I’ve yet to read or watch it. You get my drift though.)

Another way of doing this is by mashing concepts together. Brandon Sanderson talks about this in his Writing Excuses podcast (He calls it genre-blending). Here, you take something familiar and blend it with something strange.

As a formula, it kind of looks like this…
A + B = X, where A equals something ordinary, B equals something strange, and X equals your awesome new book idea.

It works like this:
High School + Kids = boring
High School + Wizards = Harry Potter

Another one I like is:
Exotic Pet Store + Outer Space + George R. R. Martin = Sentient castle-building aliens that worship you until you stab their queen with a katana and they take over your world and devour everyone on it (Sandkings by George R. R. Martin)

Try doing this yourself. Play with the formula and see what crazy new things you can come up with. I’m going to try Cowboys + Zombies and see if that equals a short story. Until next time, have fun and good luck!

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