At the recommendation of a friend, I read Blake Snyder's Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting That You'll Ever Need. She told me that while she wasn't writing a screenplay, the book was extremely helpful for writing any kind of story.
She's right, it's a fascinating look at storytelling, and it also includes some terrific exercises to foster creativity. This kind of playful thinking is fun. It's fun to mess around with ideas, to have new thoughts, to come up with a great idea. It might even inspire you to write a screenplay or start a novel.
Blatant self-promotion: in The Happiness Project, I talk about my experience of writing a novel in a month, inspired by the book, No Plot? No Problem!, written by Chris Baty, also the founder of National Novel Writing Month. Yes, I wrote a novel as long as The Great Gatsby in thirty days. (Actually, I've written three very bad novels, all safely locked in a desk drawer.)
Sometimes creativity exercises are a bit boring - what's that tiresome exercise with the candle, the cup, the matches? - but these exercises by Snyder, meant to jump-start ideas for movies, are very amusing:
1. Funny _____
Pick a drama, thriller, or horror film and turn it into a comedy.
2. Serious _____
Likewise, pick a comedy and make it into a drama. Serious Animal House - Drama about cheating scandal at a small university ends in A Few Good Men-like showdown.
3. FBI out of water.
This works for comedy or drama. Name five places that a FBI agent in the movies has never been sent to solve a crime. Example: Slob FI agent is sent undercover to a Provence Cooking School.
4. _____ School
Works for both drama and comedy. Name five examples of an unusual type of school, camp, or classroom. Example: "Wife School."
Drama or comedy. Name several pairs of people to be on opposite sides of a burning issue.
6. My ______ Is a Serial Killer
Drama or comedy. Name an unusual person, animal, or thing that a paranoid can suspect of being a murderer.
It's funny: seeing this exercise showed me how screenwriters got the ideas for several very famous movies!
Feeling creative helps boost happiness. While people often associate brooding melancholy as the spirit most appropriate to creative outpourings, research shows that people tend to be more creative when they're feeling happy.
Do you have any exercises you use to help spark your story-telling spirit?
Speaking of The Happiness Project--I just found out that it has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 103 weeks. Yay! That means that one more week will make 104 weeks, which is 52+52. TWO YEARS. So if you're considering buying The Happiness Project for yourself, or for a gift, or for your book group, or maybe for your entire office, go ahead and buy this week.