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‘Multiple ideas can interact in interesting ways’

Ideas do not exist in isolation. The richest, most interesting novels are not just based around a single notion, but instead draw upon multiple ideas. If you are finding it difficult to come up with a starting point for your novel, it may be because you are trying to base it around a single idea, when you would be better off with multiple ideas that can interact in interesting ways.


‘Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen’ John Steinbeck, Conversations with John Steinbeck


Having multiple ideas, and drawing connections between disparate things, can spark off new creative possibilities.


The following exercise will help you explore how different sets of often unconnected ideas can bounce off one another, leading you in new and interesting directions:

  1. Take a newspaper, and cut out 10–15 headlines (or short articles) that catch your eye.
  2. Turn the headlines upside down and shuffle them.
  3. Pick two headlines at random, and lay them on the table in front of you. Your challenge is to write a short story that uses themes and ideas from both sets of headlines. Write for 20 minutes.
  4. If the two headlines are not intriguing or challenging enough, then choose a third, and write a story that uses themes and ideas from all of them.