Some writers have nothing but ideas. They may be barely halfway through drafting a story when new ideas are plaguing them, new characters vying for attention, new worlds springing to life. For others, like me, the writing is the easy(ier) part, the idea generation is a whole different beast.
For me, I need more than a snippet to know whether or not I want to stick with something for 80,000 words. I need to be intrigued as well as have an idea of where I’m going. Hearing a character’s voice, for me, is the start of the ideation process, while others use it as a jumping off point.
No matter how you start a story, generating story ideas (and conflicts and worlds and characters…) is a critical part of the process and should be fun. If you have a hard time generating ideas or are feeling stuck and uninspired, here are some ways to help you come up with fresh and creative ideas for your next story:
- Read widely: Reading books, articles, and essays can spark your imagination and give you new ideas. Read widely in different genres, subjects, and styles. Read newspapers and want ads. Read posts in Quora or Reddit. Read posts in social media groups related to a topic that interests you or you’d like to know more about.
- Look to your own life experiences: Write down a list of pivotal moments in your life. What makes them interesting? What makes them universal? What if something about that moment happened differently? Consider your own alternate history. These experiences can be a great starting point for a new story.
- Use writing prompts: Writing prompts can be a great way to jumpstart your creativity. Look for prompts online or in writing books or make up your own to pull out when you need them.
- Journaling: Whether it’s Morning Pages or just sitting down in a park, closing your eyes and then writing about whatever the first thing is you see when you open them, play with free writing. Every so often, go back to your pages and highlight anything that seems interesting. It may be a word or a phrase or an object. Or nothing at all. And that’s okay, too.
- Play the question game: Ask yourself questions, especially about anything you’ve read or events you’ve already noted above, and see where it takes you. Where is that driver who cut you off in traffic going in such a hurry? Why is that woman wearing a purple hat with a feather in it at the grocery store on a Tuesday? Where are the woman and little girl with a sad face and a balloon going or coming from? What would make a mother choose to leave? How did that wedding dress come to be for sale? These questions can lead to interesting and unexpected story ideas.
- Look to your dreams: Dreams can be a great source of inspiration for new story ideas. Keep a dream journal by your bed and write down any interesting or memorable dreams you have. Use them as a starting point for a new story.
- Be still: Take time wherever you are to be still and notice. Notice what you see, feel, smell, hear. Notice conversations. Notice your emotions. Notice facial expressions and body language. How is the body language of someone at the DMV waiting room different from that of someone at the OBGYN?
- Listen to music: Music already tells a story. What if you expand on it? Take a favorite song and turn it into a scene. Use the emotion a song evokes to create a character feeling that emotion. Listen to a new-to-you artist and jot down your reactions to the lyrics, sound, whatever.
- Go to the library: Wander the nonfiction stacks without looking and randomly pick up five books from five different shelves. Skim the books about the topics you found. Can you create a flash fiction story about that topic? Can you include a short story that includes all five of them?
- Take an old story and make it new: Think Wicked, Eligible, and March. Take your favorite fairy tale or classic book, single out a tertiary character and imagine their story, or consider what would have happened if the ending had been different, or if you swapped the setting.
There are no right or wrong ways to generate new story ideas. The key is to stay open to new experiences and be willing to explore the world around you. Keep a journal with you or use the Notes app on your phone to keep a running page of ideas. You may never write any of them, but the practice of noticing will hone your idea generation skills so you’ll be ready the next time you are faced with a blank page and the time to start something new.
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Featured image by Arek Socha from Pixabay