The three new themes for Zombies Need Brains’ Kickstarter have been revealed (apocalypses, food, old tech finding new life) and I thought I’d offer up a suggestion here for how to generate an idea that fits a theme AND make certain that it’s an idea that will stick out in that slush pile. After all, you don’t want to submit a story with a fairly standard concept fitting the theme, since we’ll receive a ton of those. And while we take a few “standard concept” stories for each theme, we usually only take one or two and you don’t want to be in competition with two hundred other people who used that same idea in some form. Much better to submit a story that’s NOT standard and that catches our attention, one that is unlikely to have been used by anyone else.
Here’s the suggestion/writing tip for generating this non-standard idea that fits the theme:
- Sit down, open up your notebook or blank file, and set a timer.
- Spend the next half hour trying to come up with 24 ideas that fit the theme.
Don’t think about it, just brainstorm. Write out whatever idea comes to mind. Don’t worry if it’s standard or not, if you’ve seen it in a hundred other short stories or if it’s just way too crazy. Let your editing brain go and dive completely naked into the creative pool. And don’t worry about what the “story” may be yet (unless that comes along for the ride with the idea). Focus on ideas. Story can come later.
This process should start out in a frenzy of activity for the first ten minutes. This is likely because the first ten ideas that pop to mind will be what we’d call standard concepts, the ideas that have been done to death by everyone and their cat. That’s fine. Let the frenzy drive you into the next ten minutes.
This is where you’ll start to slow down and where your brain begins to stretch and reach for those non-standard ideas. You’ll probably smile with some of the thoughts that flit through your mind here. Or maybe groan and mumble, “That’s stupid.” Or maybe you’ll mutter, “Ooo, that has potential.” You’ll maybe get another ten ideas jotted down here.
The last ten minutes will probably seem like forever, because this is where you REALLY have to stretch. You’ll probably be tapping that pen against your chin as you think. Every time you get an idea, you’ll laugh hysterically because IT’S JUST TOO INSANE! But write it down anyway. Reach for more! Insanity is fun! Embrace it! Drink it in and gargle! Don’t choke!
You may not reach 24 ideas. You may end up with more. The goal is to force yourself to brainstorm and stretch beyond your limits and beyond those standard ideas. In general, the first ten ideas you’ve scratched out will BE those standard ideas. The last ten will be just too crazy to really contemplate. They probably stretch far beyond the theme and wouldn’t make the cut because of that. But right in the middle–those elusive four in the center–you’ll likely find some great ideas that fit the theme but AREN’T ones that will appear in a hundred other slush pile submissions. Those are the ideas you should focus on and start developing stories around. Those are probably the ideas that have the greatest chance of getting picked for the anthology.
This isn’t an exact science, of course. The best idea on your list may come earlier or later. Obviously you need to consider each idea individually and decide whether it has merit or not. Sometimes, trying for that totally insane idea works. Sometimes, with the right twist, that standard idea will stun us. YOU’VE got to make that final decision on what idea works for YOU, because if it doesn’t excite you, then it’s already failed. Find the idea that speaks to you the most. That will generate the best story.
Then sit down and write it, revise it, polish it up, and send it in. We can’t wait to read it!
This post is brought to you by the Zombies Need Brains Kickstarter currently going on at tinyurl.com/ZNBApocalypse. Swing on by and check out the details for the three new anthologies we’re hoping to fund, including APOCALYPTIC, GALACTIC STEW, and MY BATTERY IS LOW AND IT IS GETTING DARK. Pick a reward level that suits you and back our project! We can’t do an open call for submissions unless we get funded. And once we are funded, sit down and brainstorm a cool idea, write it up, and send it in!
JOSHUA PALMATIER is a fantasy author with a PhD in mathematics. He currently teaches at SUNY Oneonta in upstate New York, while writing in his “spare” time, editing anthologies, and running the anthology-producing small press Zombies Need Brains LLC. His most recent fantasy novel, Reaping the Aurora, concludes the fantasy series begun in Shattering the Ley and Threading the Needle, although you can also find his “Throne of Amenkor” series and the “Well of Sorrows” series still on the shelves. He is currently hard at work writing his next novel and designing the kickstarter for the next Zombies Need Brains anthology project. You can find out more at www.joshuapalmatier.com or at the small press’ site www.zombiesneedbrains.com. Or follow him on Twitter as @bentateauthor or @ZNBLLC.