• 5 Strategies for Generating Story Ideas

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Strategies     Comments 4 comments

    Writers' BlockComing up with ideas for stories can be challenging, especially when you’re not feeling particularly creative. The will is there but the muse is playing hard to get.

    WriteByNighter Mike R. found himself in that very situation, and emailed us for advice:

    “To be frank, I don’t have any techniques for idea generation. An idea, a character, or an image enters my mind. If it interests me, I try to craft a story from it. I understand that waiting for ‘lightning’ to strike is a slow and inefficient way of writing anything. If I only had the ideas, I would be writing 40 hours a week. (More or less.) Surely, there’s a way of generating stories on command. Right?”

    First things first, 40 hours/week?! That is too much writing. (Yes, there is such a thing.) Pace yourself, Mike. Forty hours/week is a surefire way to burn out.

    Now for the juicy stuff. Generating stories on command is a tall order, but there are definitely strategies you can employ to help your inspiration along. Here are a few:

    1. Just write!

    Move your pen across the page in stream-of-consciousness style, translating to paper whatever pops into your mind even if it doesn’t make sense. This strategy can sometimes feel uncomfortable but often yields surprising results, like stumbling across ideas for stories and characters when you least expect it.

    2. Watch a movie in your head.

    Sit back, close your eyes, and daydream. Asleep or awake, we dream in narrative, so when you let your mind wander, you naturally release your creativity, too. Like #1 above, this strategy can feel uncomfortable at first but stick with it—it gets easier with practice.

    3. Embrace randomness.

    Cut a bunch of words and images from magazines, put them in a bowl, and choose one or two words (your choice) and an image at random. Anything interesting there? Write it!

    4. Borrow from real life.

    The newspaper is a terrific source of inspiration. Strange and surprising stories fill its pages, and they’re yours for the taking.

    5. Borrow from your own real life.

    Sometimes the most fascinating stories are the ones that are closest to home. You don’t need to have lived a particularly exciting life to find story-worthy moments within it. When did you feel most afraid? Most alive? Most ashamed? That’s the stuff of life and it’s the stuff of stories, too.

    So there you have it: five strategies for coming up with story ideas when your creative well feels dry. While these are certainly not the only routes to idea generation, they are the ones that we at WBN return to time and time again. That’s because they work.

    What idea generation strategies work for you? Let us know in the comments section below.


    0 0 votes
    Article Rating
    Notify of

    Newest Most Voted
    Inline Feedbacks
    View all comments
    Cheryl Abney

    I write historical fiction and what works for me is: research reading. As I read, I jot down ideas that come to mind for a story. In a morning, I can come up with at least ten possibilities. I certainly won’t use them all, but I start with the one that hooks me most. As I’m writing and doing further research, I’ll often have other ideas pop up that I add to my list.

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    This is a great addition to the list, Cheryl. Reading for inspiration and motivation is a solid strategy for historical fiction and beyond. In fact, I’ll often read for 20-30 minutes before writing just to get my creative juices flowing, and often luck into a new idea in the process. Thanks for your contribution!

    Richard Salassi

    I find playing “WHAT IF” effective at times. What if the Titanic hadn’t sunk from an iceberg but rather an early U-boat torpedo? What if O.J. escaped from prison? What if the myth of my father dying in the war were dispelled with something truly horrible? What if I won a prize for writing an original story?

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    Yes, “what if” is a playful way of tapping into your imagination, and it goes hand in hand with the movie strategy (#2 above). When your movie stalls, ask “what if . . .” and you’ll be rolling again in no time. Thanks so much, Richard.

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x