If you write fiction, it’s inevitable that you’ll be asked the title question. I’ve faced it innumerable times. Typically, it will come after a forlorn announcement by the questioner that “I’d love to write, but I can’t seem to come up with any ideas.” The questionee – that’s you – will be tried to your limits by the effort not to groan.
There are ideas aplenty out there. A story idea doesn’t have to be perfectly original, as long as it can be presented in a fresh and intriguing (or amusing) way. After all, every story idea must involve people and problems for those people to surmount. For that reason, they’re all similar to one another ab initio.
If you’re attentive to the trials people suffer in real life, you can snatch a dozen story ideas out of any stroll through an airport waiting lounge, or a bus or railway terminal. Just listen to the exchanges taking place around you. For that matter, listen to your friends and acquaintances, preferably outside their occupational environments. If you’re really listening rather than just waiting for your turn to speak and composing what you intend to say, you’ll get ideas by the bushel.
What’s that you say? You write in one of the genres? Within some genres, the similarities among stories’ plots can overwhelm everything else about them. How significantly do murder mysteries differ from one another? Or high-medieval fantasies? Or (gulp) urban fantasies about vampires or werewolves? And here’s the Ace kicker: a lot of the readers of those genres stick to them because of the familiarity of their structures and core ideas. They want “more of the same,” rather than something utterly new and challenging.
There are even ideas to be had from puns. A couple of my novels, and components in others, would not exist if it weren’t for puns that struck me at just the right moment.
I once had a friend named Stefan, a unique, brilliant fellow who spoke just about every language spoken in Europe, who told me that true mastery of a language occurs when you start to laugh at its puns. I never came near that level of mastery in any of the languages I studied. I’ve yearned for it, vainly, ever since Stefan first described it…but I think it would require actual immersion in the language and its surrounding culture, and that would involve a huge investment of time, among other things.
What sort of ideas might arise from puns in other tongues? Would they differ greatly from those that occur in English? A source of new, unexplored motifs, perhaps? What if the language in question were Hungarian, which the pro linguists claim bears no discernible relationship to any other known language?
Say! There’s an idea: a Galactic Federation of races united by an artificial language that’s native to none of them. Admission to the Federation and its attendant benefits requires that the candidate race pass a test: some fraction of its representatives must endure a pun-intensive monologue by some Galactic Johnny Carson figure and laugh / groan at all the right moments. I can just see the examiners shaking their sense-organ clusters over some failed candidacy:
First examiner: “They just don’t get it.”
Second examiner: “Maybe you had to be there.”
I’m certain that with sufficient effort and opportunities for cultural immersion, our brighter linguistic lights could achieve that degree of mastery. (Stefan did, and in about a dozen different tongues, at that.) But would Mankind actually want to be a member of this gang? Or might we declare its members persona non grata throughout the Solar System? The mind reels!
Go for it, Gentle Readers who are aspiring writers. I’m too busy with other ideas to exploit that one. Write it, and perhaps when you’ve finished it we’ll laugh over it together. Have fun!