Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” – Orson Scott Card
I once belonged to a writing group. It was a mixed group, with experienced, published writers shuffled in with complete newbies. There was one thing that often made the newbies stand out. They’d come in, participate for a while, and then say, “I need help. Does anyone have a story idea I can use? I can’t come up with any.”
This is a relatively safe place. I try to not mock much…. Wait. Who am I fooling? I write humor, parody and satire. Mocking is my middle name. So if you are a sensitive soul who doesn’t like being the butt of a good poking (but not a poking in the butt; that’s just rude), you may want to pull out your blankie.
A good writer learns to see the millions of ideas out there. You cannot be a good writer unless you can come up with ideas.
The good news is that fourth word: learns. This is something that can be learned. I’m here to help you learn how to see the ideas out there.
1. Take a tip from Shakespeare
Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and 154 sonnets. He was writing all the time. Most of his stuff is taught in classrooms and still performed on the stage. Most of his stuff also came from somewhere else. Chaucer inspired Troilus and Cressida. Plutarch inspired Julius Caesar. In fact, it’s quite possible only three of his plays are original.
The point of this is that there is nothing wrong with getting ideas from elsewhere. Veneri Verbum and Beta Beware owe a lot to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass. Just be sure that you’re only using other sources for ideas, not for actual stories. There’s a fine line between inspiration and plagiarizing!
2. Read the news
There’s a saying: truth is stranger than fiction. There are plenty of writers who have gotten their inspiration (or an entire book deal) out of real life. Read the news on a regular basis and make a note of any stories that jump out at you. Be sure you reference the original article.
3. Play the “what if” game
I have a favorite game. I will go out in public, suitably disguised so my fans don’t chase me for autographs, and I will play a “what if” game. What if zombies suddenly appeared in this mall. What would the bored girl in the food court do? What about the jock boy who’s busy bragging to his friends about what he did this weekend?
You can play the same game. Get a notebook, go out somewhere in public (you don’t have to talk to someone), and write down some “what if” scenarios. If you don’t have your own, there are cards and books that will get you started.
4. Use story prompts
I’m not going to link you to story prompts because I don’t use them. However, if you search “story prompts”, you’ll get more than you could ever use in a lifetime.
5. Take part in a writing competition
Usually, competitions will give you the topic. How’s that for easy?
6. Use photos for inspiration
Go look around the internet and see how many photos can spark a story idea.
There are plenty more ways to get ideas, but these are good ways to start. One key to this is to always keep something with you so you can write (or voice-print) your ideas. You get ideas in the shower? (Lots of people do.) Get a waterproof pad, because you will forget by the time you get out. You get ideas in the car? Get a voice recorder. I always have my phone (with a notetaking app), a notebook and pen, and a voice recorder with me. Always. I also go through an inordinate amount of sticky notes.
Keep a file (paper, electronic, or both) of your ideas. Even if an idea is just a snippet, it can be invaluable.
There you have it. Six easy ways to get story ideas. Your assignment this week is to try all six ways. That’s right. Go do something to improve your writing. Then come back to tell me what worked best for you.
By the way, when you’ve been doing this long enough, you’ll start to see story ideas everywhere. I call them plot bunnies. Be sure to stab them. They are both voracious and extremely fecund. You will soon be overrun.