I bought a workbook for elementary school teachers at a yard sale called Teaching Creative Writing. It's not very helpful for adult writers as opposed to elementary school teachers, but hey, it was only a quarter. I love me some yard sales.
There is a fun exercise in here I'd like to share called the plot web. Basically, you take a topic you've always wanted to write about, write it down, and draw a box around it. Then you draw lines radiating from the box--about 12 lines. Each line ends in a circle. In each circle, brainstorm something that could happen; some kind of conflict.
For example, I always wanted to write a story about motor boats. So if I had boating in my box, what could be in my circles?
1. Stranded at low tide
2. Motor failure/out of gas
3. Catching a big fish
4. Drunk boyfriend/girlfriend tries to drive
5. Fall off boat, almost drown
7. Winning or losing a race
8. Fishing/clamming/shrimping for a living
9. Poaching in a black boat
10. Rogue wave!
11. Crash Dad's boat into the dock
12. True story: once a deer swam to my Dad's boat and jumped on board!
For kids, the book recommends picking one of these ideas to write about. But I think it would be more fun to combine a few, don't you? Like maybe my main character's father is a clammer and she lets her boyfriend take the boat out. He has a few beers and crashes into the dock. Now she has to talk the dock owner into letting her pay for the damages without telling her father. Oooh, now let's say that the dock owner's gorgeous son hates her boyfriend. I don't know why yet. Maybe when they were kids, boyfriend pushed hottie off a boat and he almost drowned. So by extension, hottie hates my main character, but his parents agree to let her work off the debt.
Well, it doesn't seem like I'm working the shark into this story. But that's not bad for ten minutes of thought. This isn't a bad method if you've always wanted to write about an interest but you're not sure exactly what.
The best advice in the book is this: "It must be remembered it's a hard line of balance between having thoughts flow smoothly and being conscious of everything that should be included." Doesn't that make you feel better?
-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages