I often hear writers ask each other or readers ask authors: “Where do you get your story ideas?”
I used to consider this a curious question. You see, I’ve never had a problem coming up with story ideas. They often overwhelm me with their abundance. That said, I’m learning that many individuals do struggle with generating new story concepts.
Years ago, I did a post about how I come up with story ideas. Recently, I’ve met with a lot of book clubs and spoken at conferences about my latest release, and the question has once again made its way around. So below, I’ve revisited and expanded on my three most popular tips to help clear the cobwebs from your internal story idea generator.
These may not work for everyone. Everyone is different. Everyone’s approach to creativity can be different. So take what you can from my suggestions and tweak or alter them as necessary. Even better, use the framework from No. 3 below and apply it to the suggestions in this post to expand how you might get these tips to work for you.
Tip #1: Ignore What’s Trending
I know. I know. This is counter to some of the prevailing wisdom, but hear me out.
So often creative artists get wrapped up in what’s trending in their genre or what’s popular. They try to fashion storylines or creative works to fit the current trends. This can lead to trite and overworked storylines. It also often results in flat stories because the artist is forcing an idea that does not flow genuinely from his or her creative well.
That said, some authors are good at following trends. This can work well for you if, for example, you write fast and can get a story to market quickly. You may have the skill (and the power) to move on a trend in time to ride its wave to meaningful sales. If that’s you, great. Nonetheless, be sure to evaluate how “into” the the topical nature of the trend you are so that your story is not only trendy but well done.
I’m a more deliberate writer (read moderately slow). For this reason, tapping into what’s hot in the media or in my creative industry doesn’t work for me. I’ve also found that tapping into what’s “hot” but what I do not find interesting makes it harder for me to fashion a story done to my personal standard of excellence or done well enough to satisfy my ideal reader. In my experience, this is also true for new and unpublished authors. So if you are newer to the industry or still struggling to write that breakout story, take this tip to heart.
Again, if you can tap into a trend and make the story shine, ignore this tip. For the rest of us, I recommend ignoring what’s trending and instead focus on what’s interesting to you personally.
Tip #2: Tap Into What Intrigues You
We’ve all heard that saying “the truth is stranger than fiction.” I’ve seen so often how true this really is. Accordingly, one strategy I use to develop storylines is to ask myself “what if” as I go about my day.
When I encounter news stories, articles, videos, pictures and events, I allow these daily experiences to prompt my imagination.
For example, I once saw a news snippet about a three-year-old boy who disappeared from his family farm. The headline read: Missing boy, 3, found wearing very ‘unique blanket’. The headline intrigued me, so I clicked on the link and watched the video.
The boy was missing for approximately seven hours. During that time, it rained. As you can imagine, his parents were beside themselves. Eventually, someone noticed the family dog was also missing. Sure enough, when they found the boy a mile away from home, he was safe and warm under his “doggie” blanket.
My first thought upon finishing this story was: Awwww!
My second thought was: I think there’s a story here. 🤔
If so, you need to have a place to save the “unique blanket” article and other headlines, news clips, or social media posts that make you think of a possible story.
I keep a folder in my phone and on my computer labeled (yep, you guessed it) “There’s a Story Here.” In that folder, I drop screenshots or links or notes about what intrigues me as I progress through my day and the story ideas that spring to mind because of them. Trust me, eventually you’ll have more story ideas than you could possibly write about in a lifetime.
Tip #3: Imagine The Possibilities
Simply ask yourself: “What if…?”
Give yourself permission to imagine the possibilities.
“Imagine the possibilities of what?” you may ask. Imagine the possibilities of any- and everything.
When I started working on my first historical romance (Never Cross a Highlander) which features a Black Highlander, I delved into the Scottish history connected to the African diaspora and what happened to those brought to Scottish lands against their will. This prompted me to ask:
- What if they escaped? Where would they go?
- What if they joined a particular clan?
- What if one rose to Commander of his clan’s army?
- What would life be like in an integrated clan? In a clan with only a small number of Blacks?
- What if they have offspring born in Scotland? What would life be like for Highland-born Blacks?
You get the idea.
This “what if” activity can be applied broadly to any topic or spurt of inspiration.
Let’s take our news clip featured in Step #2 above. Imagine the “unique blanket” story as the opening of a novel:
- Who’s the boy?
- Who are his parents?
- Why did he wander off?
- Did he follow the dog or did the dog follow him?
- What happened during their one-mile journey?
- Did the boy crawl under the dog or did the dog lay over him?
The possible directions to take this doggie “blanket” story are as numerous as there are writers on the planet. What immediately comes to your mind?
Here’s a writing prompt to get you started generating a new story idea:
- Think about how to expand the dog blanket news snippet into a short story or a scene for a novel.
- Write a quick draft of the opening one or two paragraphs of the scene or short story. (Of course, keep going if you can!)
- Share what you did with this idea (see below).
Share what developed from your writing prompt with me and others on social media. Look for the image for this blog post on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook and drop me a comment or simply tag me (@AuthorRayne on all platforms) in your own separate post. You could also use my contact form to share with me.
I’d love to hear from you! So, in between your writing time, I’d really like to know:
What are some ways you generate story ideas?
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