Use “Forced Association” To Get New Ideas

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by Jurgen Wolff (TimetoWrite)

“Forced association” is a method for generating ideas when you’re stuck. It can be useful anytime you are stuck for a fresh idea.

Forced association means finding a connection between one element you choose and one that is random. Let’s say you are writing a romantic comedy and you’re stuck on the scene in which a young man first asks the young woman out on a date. You know you want it to go wrong in some way, but you haven’t come up with anything specific that you like.

The guy asking for a date is the known element. Now make a list of a dozen or more words you choose randomly from a newspaper or magazine or dictionary.

Next see what ideas come up when you juxtapose the two elements. For instance, asking for a date + “hospital.”

Generate as many ideas as you can without judging them. Perhaps he asks her for a date as they’re having lunch. Before she can answer she has an allergic reaction and he has to rush her to the hospital. Or she’s a nurse at a hospital and he goes there to ask her for a date but faints when he sees a blood transfusion going on. Or he accompanies her to the pet hospital to pick up her dog and the dog attacks him.

Go through the same process with each word on your list. If there is one that doesn’t bring up any new ideas, skip to the next one. You can do the same thing with images you choose randomly from magazines or newspapers.

When you have generated at least 20 or 30 notions, pick the best ones. If none of those are good enough, repeat the process.