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Idea Generation [WE Master Class]

In January of 2015, the team behind Writing Excuses (Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Howard Tayler) started what they call a Master Course on writing. The idea was to provide a course on writing for those who can’t attend the in person courses that they provide.

Recently I’ve decided to get back into writing and since I’ve never had formal training, and I have little experience, I thought it may be a good idea to learn from skilled and experienced authors. The plan for now is to blog about the insights I have as I go through the course and my writing exercises outlined by the course. The focus in the first month was coming up with and then developing story ideas.


A couple of points that really stood out to me about coming up with ideas are:

  1. Consume a lot of different kinds of media. The more exposer to different things will give your mind ample sources to come up with interesting ideas (i.e. music, books, magazines, games, movies, social media, scientific journals, etc).
  2. Reward your brain for coming up with an idea by taking the time to write* it down in a place that won’t get lost, like a notebook or a file on your computer.
  3. A rule of thumb for if you found an good story idea is how excited people get when you tell people the idea and if they come up with other ideas from it.
  4. Usually your first idea is okay, but it can get better if you take it one or two steps deeper from the first idea.

*Two things happen when writing an idea down. First your brain gets the satisfaction of having the idea “created” which helps work your “creative muscle” and then makes it easier to come up with new ideas in the future. Second, by recording it in a trusted place (one that won’t get lost and you should review) allows the mind to release the idea so new ones can be stored in its place.

Writing Exercise

The writing exercise for this lesson was to come up with 5 story ideas (up to 150 words each) using the following prompts.

  1. Talking/interview someone
  2. Research
  3. Observation
  4. Piece of media
  5. Music

And these were the ideas I came up with.

  1. Talking about the Mandela Effect: Let’s assume time travel is possible and changes made in the past has ripple effects into the future. But the changes that are made are only to things that are physical. Thoughts/memories don’t change causing discord between physical proof and remembered truth.
  2. NASA’s discovery of TRAPPIST-1: What if in focusing research in these new planets causes the life that does live in the solar system to be aware of us, and they can get to us faster than we can get to them?
  3. Seeing a Mexican doing yard work: What if stereotypes were 100% true, meaning all people of a group all exhibit the same characteristics and do the same type of work?
  4. From Zelda Breath of the Wild: What if there was a “magical” energy source that never diminished as it is used and could be harnessed to power small devices like smart phones but could scale all the way up to powering buildings; and it was discovered before the industrial revelation?
  5. Some songs are emotional, every time you listen: A band is able to craft a single song that is so potent that anyone who listens becomes “hypnotized” and doesn’t remember anything that happens while the song is playing, but once the song ends they return to their sense unaware that anything _odd_ happened.


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