I made the statement last Thursday in A Multitude of Story Ideas, that writers generate more ideas than we can write in a lifetime. However, there are times in a writer’s life when the well feels dry and the ideas that come aren’t as promising as we would like.
If this happens, you can create story ideas in a more structured manner.
First, as mentioned last week, make sure you are getting adequate rest and taking care of yourself. Feeling run down and stressed out can put your brain in a less receptive frame of mind. If you are reading, writing (at least keeping a journal) and have given yourself time to daydream, and still the ideas are sluggish, here are a few things to help out:
- Search for newspaper articles in the human interest or crime categories. Often, if a clipping can generate outrage, sympathy, or curiosity, it has a story seed in it somewhere. These may generate plot or premise more than a full-fledged idea, but it’s a good tool for your writing toolbox.
- Examine strong emotions. Even if you don’t have a character in mind, yet, think of how a strong emotion feels in your body. Anger, humiliation, fear, betrayal, and loss all bring physical reaction. If you can put yourself into that emotion (as in method acting), use it to imagine scenarios that would induce that emotion. I’ve gotten some great short story ideas this way.
- Go to the mall and people-watch. Imagine their lives, listen to their conversations. Notice body language and think about how it matches or contrasts the words or expressions of the people involved. Though I usually people-watch for characteristics, tics, and descriptions, I’ve also gotten story ideas with this method.
- Play “What If.” Be as silly as you like. Think of the most outrageous mash ups. For example, you never know where “What if aliens liked shopping malls,” or “what if education was only available as a form of entertainment,” or “what if giving birth was required to receive a promotion.” What you are after here are juxtaposition and connection . Our writer mind often does this for us, but you can involve the left side of your brain and create the environment for the right side to get busy.
- Think about crossroads in a person’s life. What if she had gone to college instead of getting married. What if he’d married his friend instead of the head cheerleader. What if he’d been able to get a job in his field instead of selling cars with his dad. What if she had never taken a chance on the catering business. Those crossroads areas are ripe with ideas you can develop.
- Create dialogue in your head for two people who want opposite outcomes to their conversation.
- Use writing prompts. Don’t think about what you’re going to write, just set the timer for 20 or 30 minutes, open up a prompt, and go. Writing prompts are available on our Tumblr site, my Pinterest board, and on Chris’s site. They are also a great way to get your writing practice in.
Once you get an idea that you think might have substance, what do you do with it? Coming next week: Developing Story Ideas.
Some really good methods here!! The what if game can be so helpful… but sometimes it’s hard to even come up with quirky scenarios like that. (I loved the two you listed! You should totally write those stories.) Any suggestions on how to pick the two things to mash together? I find that when I think of something, my brain automatically points to the naturally related things, which defeats the point of the exercise.
A few times a year, when I sit down to write out prompts for Tubmlr, I’ll brainstorm lists of people (including aliens lol), places and things. Each category gets its own list. Then I connect them randomly with words like love, hate, envy, on, under, despite, etc.
A quicker method is to grab a phrase or image from television, then something random from a magazine (or things from around you that you can see or hear) and write a quick sentence or two.
I hope this helps, Olivia. Perhaps the other Muses have methods they can share also. 🙂
Wonderful tips, Robyn. My favs are people-watching, and playing what-if? Great, great, great….
And a great reason to sit in a coffee house or cafe lol.
Airports are my favorite people-watching place. Thanks, Robyn.
Once an idea gets into my head, I go immediately to stream of consciousness on it. Just write anything and everything about it for a long as I can. Once that’s tapped out, I take a break for a few days and come back to reorganize it into a better structure or storyline.
Oh, yes. I’ll be talking about that next week. I do a lot of pre-write and it always starts out just as you describe. It’s usually how I generate stakes, conflict, and plot. 🙂
Ditto. I look forward to your post next week on that topic.