For me, short stories and poetry take a lot of time and dedication to polish up to a standard whereby anyone but my nearest and dearest can read them. It was therefore surprising to me that, after writing the majority of this article, I could sit back and understand that my best story ideas do not come from a place where I’ve painstakingly honed my skill (as if!). All the stories that I love (and stick with) originate from a place of fun.
The ways in which I generate story ideas are listed below. The results can be wonderful or appalling, so the end result is incidental, but what doesn’t change is my enthusiasm for the individual piece of writing and the enjoyment I have in the whole experience. As mentioned in Podcast 004: Building a Writing Habit, when developing a writing habit to keep creative juices flowing in everyday life Dan likes to plot out his time for creating ideas whereas I let things germinate more freely. What we outline below will hopefully compliment whichever approach you want to take at the start of each writing experience.
Compile your own generators
This can be a lot of fun and will help you to treat the start of your writing like a game. Some of these ideas will stick and develop into something more complete and unique but, even when this does not happen, the creativity that is encouraged will have a positive impact on more serious endeavours you undertake later.
Some examples are
- Compiling idea boxes. In each there can be random items; for example, a box filled with arbitrary settings, another with characters, one with objects, and a fourth with significant plot points. You can add to these generators with totally obscure ideas whenever you want . Pick one element from each box and combine all four together to ensure you have a totally unique story from the outset and your creative juices will be flowing from the second you start thinking about how to link these ideas together.
- Allow the words of others to guide you. When you hear a really good sentence from someone else (something controversial or quirky, perhaps) let that be an external generator. Take a note of the line and then use if to form your own short fiction story or poem. Depending on the overall structure of the piece, you can decide whether this goes at the beginning, middle or end. What is significant is that your idea is framed around this memorable and attention-grabbing quotation.
- If you are in the process of forming a writing habit by taking notes / being creative in different walks of life, embed the ideas you find there in a piece of writing. More on different ways to do this can be seen in Podcast 4. You can generate your own ideas every minute of the day. Sometimes they will stick and sometimes they will disappear undiscovered, but even when the end result is not a story that you ever let anyone read the process itself is one where your creativity is fostered. At the very least it is payback for all the hard work you will be putting into forming your writing habit. At the very best, something that germinated as a fun, creative idea will blossom into a fully developed piece that is successful in getting published.
Write a really good introduction without a thought of where it will go
... and then treat it as a game.
Your enthusiasm in the start could be catching and the reader may be taken along with you. So this good introduction may act like a hook on which to hang the rest of your story.
Again though, be prepared for this to sometimes fail. We often have great ideas in our head which fail to come to fruition because they have little impact when realised. This is alright. We have to experiment and play around with our ideas for something to stick; we need to be confident and carefree when generating story ideas; we should approach the process with interest and a sense of fun rather than any feeling of finality.
In all this, imagine the twists and turns your story could take when it is set free out in the open, unhindered by the pressures of imagined success. Even you may be taken by surprise.
Take from stories you have heard / the experience of others
These experiences may be easier to embellish and fictionalise than work from your own life (see below). Often when we hear the stories of others, although they are non-fiction, they do take a fictional place in our heads and we can expand easily on relevant and interesting points until it becomes the most engaging story on a specific topic that could be imagined. Any irrelevant facts given by the teller can be completely ignored. Therefore we are starting from somewhere real but working with it until it is extraordinary.
There is a lot of scope to write about the weird and wonderful. Again, this does not always guarantee a top story but will help our creativity and we can branch out as writers, reaching new places. Who knows what could follow on from this?
Real life influences
In our article Blurring The Line Between Fact and Fiction, we spoke about real life influences and writing from your own experience. It is worth noting that this can be an interesting way to generate story ideas and come up with something really original. Be prepared to change real life, though, to keep alive the drama and intrigue that often comes with fiction.
It can be tough to find the room and headspace to change our own world on paper and to become detached enough from it to allow this to happen. Taking a step back, leaving the idea a while to take root, and then returning to it to start writing can all be very useful.
Here, we will likely feel the emotional connections that tie us to a story. Feeling this as a writer does not always transfer into an immersive reading experience but it is a good place to start.
So bear in mind that what is listed above is not meant to be a comprehensive checklist for generating writing ideas, but an outline of some ways to initiate fledgling concepts that can be kneaded and developed into a final product. Remember that you are only human and some ideas will be better than others. As a writer, the struggle is not seen in the finished article but in the many drafts you write, of both successful and unsuccessful pieces, and the beautiful words you create that become relegated to the bin or trash folder.
I guess the main thing to take from all this should be that we must say goodbye to perfectionism for a while. Park it. Then become playful and see what unfolds.
And if you have any other ideas for generating story ideas, please let us know. We can pass your ideas on to our readers.