I believe I should preface this post with a small disclaimer before we jump in.
This list of writing prompts and story starters to generate story ideas is by no means a definitive list nor is it exhaustive.
To be honest …
… no list could ever be exhaustive when it comes to coming up with story ideas.
However, the tactics used in this post are how I have been able to, over the years, come up with story ideas for several of the different stories I have worked on or have shared with other writers.
But I also believe they can benefit anybody else who utilizes them.
So let’s jump in.
And the first question we need to ask ourselves in the process of coming up with fresh story ideas is…
Where Do Story Ideas Come From
So where do these brilliant but elusive thoughts come from that lead to a multi-million dollar book deal and ultimately end up becoming the next big Hollywood movie?
Is there some magical land where good idea fairies live and we just have to wait our turn until one visits us during the night?
I really hope not.
I hope there is a way to help jump start the brain and the creativity process.
So where do these great story ideas come from?
Easy answer… everyday life.
I’m sure that is not the groundbreaking information you came to read but please allow me a chance to expound on this a little.
Coming Up With Story Ideas
Like I stated above, coming up with story ideas is as easy as experiencing everyday life. Allow me to explain.
When J.K. Rowling came up with the idea for Harry Potter she was stuck on a train for four hours and the thought of a little dark haired boy with glasses that didn’t know he was a wizard popped into her head.
That small seed of an idea then continued to grow as she cultivated it and began to dig deeper to see what was there.
And we all know how it turned out.
But I can see the comments already. “That is J.K. Rowling, creator of one of the best book series of all time and I am just fill in the blank.
Remember though, before J.K. was J.K. she was Joanne Rowling.
Suzanne Collins came up with the idea for Hunger Games while channel surfing. On one channel she saw people competing to win a competition on a reality show and on another channel she saw footage on the invasion of Iraq.
The two ideas converged and through some more cultivating and digging to see what was there, came the idea for Hunger Games.
Those are just a couple of instances of using everyday life to generate story ideas but the imagination when let loose can be a great idea starter.
So let’s take a look at some more ways to generate these elusive creatures.
1) What You Know or What You Do
Outside of this blog, and me working on my writing career, I am also an IT geek for a large corporation.
While sitting in my cubicle day in and day out, ideas for stories seem to come to me based on what I do each day.
For example, what if while I was working on a computer in the executive wing of the building I come across an interesting set of files and folders that shouldn’t be there.
The intrigue of these files are too much for me to handle and I open them to investigate. I see documents for money laundering and forgery that go all the way up the chain of executives.
In the files are plans to carry out some federal contract with the government that will lead to selling arms to the enemy to spur a war in the Middle East.
They find out that I know their plan and they start to tear my life apart because of the information I have.
The hunt begins.
Even though this idea isn’t destined for a Hollywood movie or a set of book deals, I did just come up with it on the fly.
And it was all based on me thinking of what I normally do each day and allowing my imagination to play the what-if game.
Maybe you are a nurse who works in the ER. But what-if one night a man comes into the ER with a gunshot wound but he doesn’t say much about it; he looks panicked.
Everything about him is shrouded in mystery.
Later some guys show up and start asking questions but they don’t say what they want. They force you to show them the guy’s room but it is empty and the window is open.
What was he running from?
What happened earlier for these guys to be looking for this man?
Why did the guy have a gunshot wound?
What you know or what you do everyday are filled with small little spurs of ideas.
Just slow down and notice them.
2) People Watching
I love this technique and honestly I probably watch people way more than I should …
… just ask my wife.
How does it work? By the way it sounds.
Watch people everywhere.
What they are doing.
Where they are going.
Why they do what they do.
Watch their mannerisms and quirks.
People can be an idea generator that can provide a lot of laughs or mystery.
For example, maybe you are driving into work and you notice a speeding car is coming up on you quickly. As the car gets ahead of you it cuts you off and keeps driving.
We have all had this happen to us and we all know how frustrating it is but can you see how this situation can be a story idea.
Why is this person in a hurry?
What is going on in this person’s life to make them act this way?
Maybe he just robbed a bank because he is late on his mortgage and his family is being threatened to be thrown out of their home if they don’t pay.
Or maybe he owes a different kind of mob and is late on some bets he couldn’t cover.
3) Read Book Covers
This one is fun to help spawn some ideas.
The danger though is to mimic instead of inspire.
Take an afternoon an evening or some free time you can spare and read through some book covers in the genre that interests you. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go to the book store anymore.
In the age of the Internet, reading book covers and the synopsis is easy as getting onto Amazon. Peruse these covers and see if they jump start any seed of a story idea.
4) Watch the News
This depressing media outlet can be very helpful with idea creation. Especially if there are particular stories that agitate you.
5) Research Topics You are Interested In
I did this recently on a political thriller that I was outlining.
Between my research into a secret sect of the CIA and an ongoing story in the news, I had more than a few ideas and plot leads for my story.
And my research all started with a news story that wouldn’t go away.
Next, as you think about that topic add any other idea that pops into your head based on the topic as a branch off the main topic.
This technique works best drawn out but the main point is not to filter yourself.
Whatever you think, write it down as another branch.
Somewhere within your mind-map could be a line of thought that can be used for your new story idea.
To use a software based mind-map, check out Free Mind. It is FREE and runs on virtually any operating system out there.
For other options, check out this post on Life Hacker.
7) The What-If Game
As you have probably noticed by now I have used that a few times in creating ideas. The reason why… it works.
What-if a giant shark seemed determined to hunt down swimmers off the eastern coast of the United States? Jaws
What-if scientists were able to bring back dinosaurs into modern times and all hell broke loose? Jurassic Park
What-if you had to fight to the death against other people to see who will bring food and prosperity back to their community? Hunger Games.
You get the point I am sure. You can do this with any of the aforementioned technique and it will work.
That is the beauty of the What-If game.
But what do you do once you come up with an idea?
Write them down.
Record them somehow.
I can’t tell you how many times I have come up with what I thought was a killer idea right as I was falling asleep, only to have it vanish from memory by the time I wake up.
Because I thought there was no way I would forget it.
It was too powerful of an idea.
But I can tell you that almost every time it has happened and I didn’t record it, I forgot it.
That powerful idea was gone.
So write down your ideas when you get them. Whether you think you will ever use them again, just record them.
Here are some ways to record your ideas.
- Record them on your computer, tablet, or phone. Most devices have some kind of notepad for you to jot things down.
- Keep a stack of index cards with you and something to write with of course.
- Some kind of voice recording contraption, so you can just do some quick stream-of-consciousness.
- Carry around a notebook, with a writing utensil.
- Email them to yourself or text them. I have an entire email folder dedicated to story ideas. As I get them, I email them to myself. Allow the beauty of the Internet cloud to remember them.
We can get more detailed and creative, like getting tattoos or skywriting, but you being the smart individual that you are will figure it out.
The main point is to write it down or record it somehow. Don’t allow that brilliant spark of inspiration to disappear.
Here’s The Next Step
If you would like to find ways to come up with endless ideas for your next story, you’re in for a treat … because I have a Free Bonus for this post.
Its a free list consisting of 29 story generators that helps you overcome the block of what to write next.
Click the link below and enter your email to get access to the free list.
Let the ideas begin.