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Generating Story Ideas

Generating Story IdeasWhen I first began to concentrate on fiction, I wrote down every little plot bunny that came along and put it in a file.  I was terrified I’d lose a great idea.

The truth is that active writers will produce more great ideas than they can use in a lifetime.  Having a life and a daily writing practice will do more to generate new and fresh ideas than anything else.

However, there are ways to produce ideas in a more planned way.  Pick the decent ones and develop them a little to see if they go anywhere.  If not, move on and trust that the seeds of such exploration will sprout when the time is right.

So how can you generate ideas?  These are what work for me.  You may find some methods more helpful than others, and several items are geared toward specific genres (such as crime fiction).

  • Writing prompts
  • Story starts
  • Writers group challenges
  • News items or articles
  • Writing the story behind a song
  • Riffing off books, plots, and characters you love (caution, be influenced by them but make the idea your own)
  • Word lists (Ray Bradbury’s method)
  • Memory prompts
  • Legends and myths
  • Overheard conversations
  • Dreams
  • Fantasies
  • Police blotter
  • Change in routine (you’ll be amazed how changing your routine can wake up that part of your brain)
  • Doing something scary (same as above, it jump-starts that part of your brain)
  • “What if”
  • Historical events
  • Family stories
  • Old photographs
  • Book title lists
  • Imagining the future
  • Watching documentaries

The more you take in and filter through the writer mind, the more opportunities there are to make new connections and generate story seeds.  This is useful if you are struggling with creative log jam (too many ideas) or a dry spell (ideas that won’t come forth).  However, the best way to generate story ideas is to write every day and maintain a lively daily writing practice.

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11 thoughts on “Generating Story Ideas

  1. Fantastic suggestion, Robyn. The one I liked best, and can’t wait to write is the story behind a song. GREAT idea!

    • As an experiment, I wrote a very dark story based on a song from Disturbed, and then wrote another based on The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia. Fun and interesting to see where the mind goes. 🙂

  2. I always find it so difficult to admit that an idea isn’t working and I should focus my time on something else. But you’re quite right: There isn’t enough time in the world for a writer to pursue every idea she thinks, and that’s important to remember. It makes me feel less guilty about abandoning a notion.

  3. I have shelves of notebooks full of unused ideas, but coming up with the right one for the moment in hand can still be a challenge. I find that creative and idea-generating exercises from other artforms and areas of work can help, as they get the brain working in different ways. Taking a drawing or speaking or cooking exercise, having a go, then seeing what writing parallels or ideas bubble up.

  4. I, too, had shelves of scattered notebooks with unused ideas, snippets, prompts, characters. You name it. But the hardest thing about writing everything down is that when you’re scrounging for a new idea, having to go back through ALL of your old notes can be quite a task. The OCD in me couldn’t take it anymore and I just had to do something. So, thanks to the brilliant invention of tagging, I created a private blog that I transferred all of my notes into. I won’t lie, it took a long time, but now, when I click on “ghost” or “night” or “female” every plot or character or scene is at my fingertips. I am so glad I took the time to do it!

  5. Pingback: Planning, Plotting, Pre-writing, Oh my! | The Sarcastic Muse

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