Use the things you like to get an idea, to keep going on your current project, or just for daydreaming. Use the tag method to find out what you like.
There are about as many ways to get ideas as there are people in the world, or maybe more. Every person has their way, and some have multiple ways even. I recommend using the tag method when you have absolutely no ideas or when you want a new angle to your current novel.
Tag method step 1: List what you like
The first step is to write down all the things you like, big and small. What you desire to read and watch, what you want in life, what you find soothing. It can be near anything at all—an animal, a specific person, an event, a place, a plot point. Nothing is off limit! Anything you feel passionate about should be on the list—regardless of what it is.
I’ll give you some examples I have put on my list.
- Rewriting historical events or people with fantasy elements
- All female main cast
- A beach during sunset
- World building
- No-drama relationships
The example is just a short list, to give you an idea of what might be on there. I’ve tried to provide some different types, big and small, to show the possible variety of tags.
Handling broader themes
One thing that I would recommend not adding to your list is whole Fandoms. And I say that for a reason. You can have them there temporarily while brainstorming, but later I’d say look at them and try to write down why you like those instead of putting such a broad term on the list.
Look for plots, character traits, themes, settings, anything at all that you like from these fandoms. Try to see patterns; the same thing portrayed differently in the fandoms you’ve written down. Add these things to the original list instead of (or in addition to) the fandom.
- Magical school
- Abused by guardians
- Bullied by jealous people
- Finding new friends
Marvel (Winter Soldier)
- Close friends from childhood
- The brainwashed good guy turned bad guy breaking free turning good guy
Your list will grow for each franchise you analyse. In the same way as fandoms, try not to write a specific character (Bucky), look for why you like them instead. No particular places (Hogwarts) or events (Bucky falling).
Try to do the same with all the people you’ve written down, all the places. Try to spin on and analyse to come up with even more things to put on the list.
Good and evil
Not everything that you write down has to be something good, something positive. It can be something that is evil, but you might use it in a villain, or to put your protagonist through hell. You don’t have to focus on things you like, write down everything you can imagine.
If you think of it, write it down!
If it helps you, you can brainstorm with your friends. You might find it scary and stressful to share, then keep the list to yourself, not sharing it with anyone else. It is entirely up to you.
Tag method step 2: Select five of them
By now you have a detailed and long list of tags and ideas to use for your next (or current) story. You might even be on your way to write something already! If so, good for you. If not, don’t worry, I’ll give you the next step immediately. There is still work to do, things to analyse, and plots to imagine.
The next step with the tag method is to look at the list you now have. From it, you now have to try to select just a few of them. I’d say between three and seven. Circle, bold, mark the chosen ones any way you want to. You can even put them into a new list. Just do what feels right for you, the most important is that you understand what it means.
Never delete anything you write down. Do not remove the list, keep it for the future. You might need it for your next novel, the next time you get stuck and don’t know what to write.
You can go through the list and select those that you find most exciting, or you can do the opposite—discard those that do not.
If you are unsure, split your list into three “piles”—yes, no, maybe—until all items are in one of the three states. Check your yes pile, does it contain less than seven items? You are good to go. If it has what you feel is too few items, look through your maybe pile and divide it into either the yes or no collection. Then go through your yes pile again, splitting it into yes, no, maybe. Then repeat this until you have a good sized yes list or a grasp of which from the yes collection you are going to get a story you like from.
How many to select
As a reminder, my suggestion of 3–7 items is only that, a suggestion. If you are more comfortable with more or less go for it! 3 small things might not be enough, while 7 large ones might make it harder to find the actual plot behind them.
It also depends on where in the process you are. If you are starting more and broad might be better, easier to get an elaborate plot from those than three smaller items. But if you are in the middle of writing, and want inspiration for one scene, fewer might be an advantage.
Tag method for plot or scene?
Of course, there are some differences between using this for inspiration to a whole novel versus just one scene in an ongoing story. I mentioned some previously while talking about how many items to select, but there is a few more I want to say.
Getting a plot idea
Generating a plot will often require broader themes to be able to come up with something big enough to hold a reader for a longer time. Assuming you plan to write something longer than a short story that is. It needs to have some connection with each other and solve a problem.
One big advantage of using this for generating a plot is that you have no restrictions at all. You start with a blank canvas and go from there. If you come up with a new and better idea, you can change into that direction quickly.
Getting a scene idea
The most significant difference when trying to get help with a scene is that you have a whole novel to take into consideration. You probably should not throw in some special agents into your story about a historical drama. It will require you to re-write and re-plan large parts of your plot. And maybe even change the genre of the story. Using it in the context of an existing novel means there are certain restrictions to what tags you have available for you.
Instead of going through the complete list of things that you like, you could go through it marking anything that is relevant to your story. Or write a new collection based on your novel, what you want to have in it or what you already have thought of to include.
It might also help to get the 3–7 themes that apply to your novel so that you know what story you are writing. Having them might help you keep your book on track, and having the common thread throughout your plot.
Now you have a smaller list of items that are the base for your new plot. These 3–7 (or thereabouts) are the core concept of your novel. Keep the ideas; you don’t want to forget them. Return to them when you are uncertain or feel lost.
If you still have time to procrastinate— I mean you don’t have a plot yet, there are still ways to continue planing. The Snowflake method is a popular option, working from one sentence into a full summary and scene-list of your plot. You can keep working with these themes, using the Tag method. The Zigzag way helps you make sure there are ups and downs in your story.
Or any of the other outlining and plot creation techniques out there!