I know I have an idea. I know I already have a thousand ideas and if I do something to them others will turn up. Writing prompts are already ideas. A story generator only gives you something to DO to an idea you already have.
Today it says ‘This is a pure action story with a strong theme of relativism and how cultural conflicts are inevitable. The story is about a philanthropist. It takes place in a galaxy-spanning imperium. A temporal paradox plays a major role in the story.’
You already have ideas about pure action. You have ideas about a spin-kicking twentysomething in black cotton, or about a fast-handed retiree in stonewash and a cable knit. You have ideas about the pace of the action, whether there will be cars, whether there will be seaplanes or white water.
You already have ideas about relativism and cultural conflicts. You have ideas about colonisation, about the kind of genocide that happens with disease and the kind of genocide that happens with broken glass and orphanages. You have ideas about resistance, aggression, media spin. You have ideas about how people live their lives under or inside cultural conflict.
You already have ideas about philanthropists. You have ideas about whether they should be quiet or loud, whether they should give more or differently, whether they’re covering for something worse, whether they’re part of the problem, whether they strengthen or weaken a society. You have ideas about what kinds of relationships they might have, or want.
You already have ideas about galaxy-spanning imperia. You have ideas about the transport and communication worldbuilding, about the kinds of supply and demands they would manage, you have ideas about the imperial forces suppressing rebellions on outer worlds or among certain demographics. You have ideas about societies that need to plan across centuries, societies that can always go find more different better resources and space. You have ideas about why anyone would want to stop the society expanding. You have ideas about the costumes and equipment of the imperial forces.
(These are probably wrong. Make the armour weigh a lot less.)
You already have ideas about temporal paradox. You have ideas about what causes them, what they can cause, and how difficult it will be to write a conversation about cause and cause when all the causes are also causes – wait, no, I mean, you see? You have ideas about the kind of person who deliberately caused a temporal paradox and what their motivation was, and why they believed it was the best option. You have ideas about the kind of people who want to manage, control, reverse, investigate, conceal or profit from the issue. You have ideas about which of them will be people you would enjoy spending time with.
If this was enough! If only this was enough!
None of this is the story. It’s not enough to give rise to a story. These are not the things you lay out on the slab in a thunderstorm.
I want to tell a story about a group of women avenging their granddaughters.
I can tell that in these ideas. I can tell a story that has elderly scientists coming unstuck in time after centuries of stasis or faster-than-light travel or brain modifications that help them understand higher mathematics.
(I personally cannot tell the story of the higher mathematics. That’s okay, I can tell the story of how it makes them feel and behave.)
I can tell a story that has guerrilla granddaughters spin-kicking imperial forces on outer planets, or on starships, set to great music, and also osteoporotic grandmothers intervening to help them, conceal them, pass them anonymous information from up and down the timeline. (‘How could they possibly know all this?’ ask the action heroes. ‘They must be the empire! Don’t trust them! Do the opposite!’ They do the opposite, and find a note in the vault saying ‘I get it, and I’m proud of you, but there’s still time to do what I suggested.’ They are extremely irritated.) I can tell a story that has an elderly, galactically renowned, childfree engineer waiting nervously outside the bedroom where her strong young grandmother is delivering her father. I can tell a story that starts with everyone dead and works backwards.
And these are still not the story! They are causing a hundred stories in your head, because you already have ideas about all these things. I don’t have to isolate one and write it. Neither do you.
But I’m telling myself a story about how I might.