Wednesday, August 15, 2012

On the pros and cons of story idea generators

There are such things as story idea generators for first time writers or even experienced writers to use to help them come up with a story. But with any such programme there are several pros and cons that need to be looked at carefully before carrying through with any idea generated or even before using or buying the programme. I thought I'd list a few to help a writer or hopeful make the decision on their own rather than preaching this or that to them.

Also, I should mention that there are plot and character generators out there as well but no matter the type of generator the below should be applicable.


  • A quick solution can be found when you're struggling for an idea.
  • The most common or famed themes and issues that sell well will be accessed to produce the idea.
  • The most common or famed characters and events will be accessed to produce the idea.
  • No need to worry about writer's block (or so a lull in the imagination is called).
  • They provide ideas for practice writing much like exam questions.
  • Come up with ideas you're unlikely to have thought of.
  • They help you learn what you have to consider while initially structuring a book.
  • You can create a list of ideas and pick the best.
  • They help you analyse your writing.
  • They may help you start writing even if you don't follow the idea or plot given to the letter.
  • Its easier to write when you don't have to do half the work.
  • For writers so far unsuccessful in creating complex plots or characters these give some assistance when it comes to writing a potentially publishable piece.
  • If you have most of the story together but are missing a character or an event then these might provide the missing information.


  • The idea is touted to be perfect, usually meaning artistically or with regards to publication opportunities, but perfect is rarely found in the publishing world and usually has to do with the originality matching with marketability and writing skills. Writing works very similar to old classics or best sellers or even ones full of stereotypes or predictable events won't generally impress an agent or publisher. Such works can also be too close to plagiarism to be publishable.
  • Much like exam questions, they can leave you feeling blank and uninspired and because of that, stupid. This is not a good emotion for a writer as writers have to at least suspend most of their self-criticism until the first draft is done.
  • Idea generators come up with ideas you're unlikely to have thought of which are sometimes fine and sometimes not. If you are unlikely to have thought of the idea or character you'll likely find it much harder to write on the subject or about the character's motivations, thoughts and emotions. Without such inspiration the story will almost certainly read as flat and lifeless. That's if you manage to write the complete story in the first place as without inspiration it is rather difficult to write at length.
  • There are much better and more appropriate ways of learning how to structure books, many of which are free. Joining a writer's group will always help. Picking up a book on editing and publishing will show you the other side of the industry. Talking to book sellers and keeping an eye on the latest publications in your chosen genre also gives you an idea of genre trends. And above all, reading other people's works gives you information on structure, writing styles, genre trends, book length, characterisation etc (free if you have a library card).
  • A list of ideas that aren't your own is no more useful that a single idea not your own. Inspiration often comes from your own thoughts, feelings and experiences on events and issues related to you. Even if you are gleaning a story from a newspaper article, the reason for your inspiration is your empathy, sympathy, shock, awe etc.
  • Analyse your writing against a particular model and adjusting accordingly only gets you closer to a bland but mass marketable read. I say mass marketable as it could be sold pretty much anywhere but without that spark the bland book likely won't sell as well as expected.
  • Relying on other people's work, which culminates in a programme, instead of your own imagination can lead to lesser ideas being worked on.
  • Compromising on a piece of writing can leave you feeling empty when most writers end up feeling like they've written down a little bit of their heart and soul.

There are likely more points to be added but after this you can see where I stand. If you aren't extremely stuck then search out your own inspiration and draw on your own knowledge. That's what reader's are often interested in, even if it is reformatted into fiction. Actually, especially so for fiction lovers as not everyone's biography will be interesting but their thoughts, impressions and life lessons might well be. But all this isn't to say that you can't take a little boost in your writing abilities from an idea generator. If you're starting out or a little stuck filling in the gaps in your story they might help but I believe the best approach if you are going to use one is to mix a little of your own ideas and a little of theirs. Don't let the programme write everything for you or you'll just be writing a boring essay.

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