How to Come up with a Story Idea
Generating story ideas falls into two camps. There’s the group that has too many ideas to keep up with, and the group that is stumped and isn’t sure what things to write about. Let’s take a look at the second, as I’m guessing that’s why you’re here. Don’t worry. Once we get down the basics, you’ll be bursting at the seams with ideas.
How to Get Writing Ideas
- The first trick in coming up with ideas to write about is to narrow down what genre you’d like to write in. You can learn more about different book genres, sub-genres, and tropes here.
- Another way to brainstorm for ideas is by thinking about the stories you like to read or types of shows you like to watch on television. It’s easier to write a book when you’re passionate about the topic. I’d have a difficult time writing about wars in foreign countries or car racing, because it’s not an interest of mine. For your first story, stick with something you love. It will keep you motivated.
- Make a list of things you enjoy talking about. I know. It sounds simple, but that’s the point of this exercise. Grab a piece of paper and jot down some of your hobbies and favorite topics to discuss with your friends.
- Let news stories or TV shows inspire you. Did you read a great new piece on a possible UFO sighting? Did it excite you? Maybe you’d love writing space travel or science fiction. Was there an article about politics that fired you up? You could write a political drama. Or do you plant yourself in front of the television every time The Bachelor comes on or swoon over Hallmark Movies? Maybe a romance would be a good start.
How to Brainstorm a Story
- What types of characters do you love to read about or watch? When I sat and thought about some of my favorite shows over time, a certain type of character revealed themselves again and again. Do you like heroes, anti-heroes, sweet but nosy gossips, bitter and angst-filled young adult characters? Think about what type of character you think you’d enjoy writing.
- What type of ideas get your mind ticking? What about story themes? Do you like stories about good vs evil, or betrayal, maybe you prefer stories about redemption.
- Are you drawn to a particular location? Do you dream of old castles on sweeping hillsides, or forests where fantasy characters could thrive? Maybe you’re drawn to the beach and picture a love story there. What about a rugged mountainside where characters must face the elements during a blizzard? Ghost towns? Maybe a western. What about mysteries. Do you picture creepy, old mansions where you could write about hidden passages?
- Fill a notebook with these thoughts, because while one of these might not inspire you today, it might capture your attention next time you write a book.
How to Find Inspiration for Writing a Book
Look to your bookshelf or e-reader, and look for a pattern. I’m guessing you have a favorite genre or two that you’re always reading. That should be a clue that it would be a good fit.
Once you decide on a genre, then we need to move onto other pieces of your story. Let’s get inspired!
What kind of problem could your character have? This is going to be the main conflict. Have you ever thought…I want to write a story about …. fill in the blank … but I don’t know how to start. It could simply be that you didn’t develop the story idea enough for it to take hold.
The cool thing is your character is going to have an internal conflict and an external conflict. Don’t worry, you don’t need to know exactly what they are at this stage, but they may help inspire you to generate more ideas for your notebook.
Inner conflicts are the things that stop your character from acting a certain way. A problem they need to right, in order to get what they want. A new way of thinking.
An external conflict is just what it sounds like. It’s coming from outside of them. Who or what is stopping them?
Here’s another way to think about your story. Do you want your story to have an obvious good guy vs bad guy? In this case, maybe thinking about your bad guy will motivate you, more than thinking about the hero. Why is your villain working against your hero? You can learn more writing a villain here.
Some people like to think from the ending, to figure out what their story is about. Here’s an example: My hero finally defeats the villain when… Or, this is how my hero finally beats the villain. Figure out the questions… Who? What? Why? When? and How?
Starting from the end of the story might show you the path you need to get there. You then reverse engineer your story. For THIS to happen, THIS has to happen first.
How to Get Motivated to Write
Some people love writing prompts. If your brain isn’t cooperating, use a handful of prompts to see if anything inspires you. Here are a couple of examples:
- My mother dropped the act. They were fighting words…
- The storm surge threatened the farm as the river crested. Phillip hastened his step, knowing he could only save a few.
- Dianna stood back up, her face hot from humiliation. Not today. She wouldn’t let them win this time.
- Jose turned his back to her. His heart was broken. Yet all he wanted was another chance.
- The atmosphere was thick with dust. A red dust. A kind they’d never seen before. As the astronaut stepped onto the jagged landscape, his eyes shot wide open. A twisted creature slithered toward him, and it didn’t look friendly.
- She wiped her hands clean of the blood, scouring her nails under the hot soapy water. It wasn’t the color of death that would last with her forever–it was the scent. It lingered in her nostrils, refusing to leave.
- Ty would lead the way. He’d change things. Make them right. The way his father never did. He’d show them all…
There are plenty of prompts online if you need more. Reedsy has a list of well over 600 writing prompts. You can find them here.
How to be More Creative in Your Writing
Do the unexpected. Instead of your character being a work at home mother, make them a work at home father. Make your soldier a woman. Make your hero a child. Take something you know and twist it. That helps make a story fresh and unique.
Have you ever thought, if only I had thought of that idea first? Let me be honest, there are only so many types of stories. It’s not the simple idea that makes a story dull, it’s how the story is told, who the characters are. I’ve heard so many people say, I had that same idea, now I can’t write it. Yes. Yes, you can. I’ll explain it below…
Hang with me a little longer, and I’ll help you understand why there are thousands upon thousands of romance books, but each is its own. Or why there are countless mysteries, but each has its own twist on a story. Think about it. There was a murder. A detective solved in. Um, been done? Yes! Over and over, thank goodness. And there are so many amazing stories with that same premise.
We’re going to use the idea of a man down on his luck. Maybe you’ve been thinking about writing a story about a thirty-year old bartender. He’s trying to turn his life around. Let me show you how many different ways this story can go:
- Maybe he is a recovering alcoholic and being a bartender challenges him every day.
- Maybe he got fired from a massive Fortune 500 company, and it was the only job he could find to provide for his new family.
- Maybe he was recently released from jail and is trying to make a fresh start.
- Maybe he aspires to be an actor, but is stuck in this dead end job, serving drinks to actors and trying not to be resentful.
- Maybe he’s a super hero in disguise and is trying to stay close to his enemy to learn more about them.
- Maybe he is working off his student loans and this is his second job.
See. It’s not about the story. It’s about the character. If you give ten people a sentence and say, write a story about…
a thirty year old bartender who is down on his luck
Every body will have a different idea of who this man is and why he’s working there.
It’s not only your main characters who make a story unique, but your secondary characters. We each have a unique voice and perspective when we write. Bring your own spin to a familiar character to make them into a new character. Harry Potter fan? Don’t simply write the same character with a female character. Change multiple facets. Okay, you like the wizard angle, but maybe instead of learning magic, your character shuns magic. It is the one thing in their life that destroys everything it touches. Maybe they are trying to take down those in charge to change the world. To stop magic, before it can destroy anything else. To end it. To cast it away, forever.
Maybe your character is an outside observer who realizes magic is real, and they’re convinced they can learn it if they work hard enough at it, never achieving their goal, because they aren’t chosen… but they learned something else about themselves in the process.
If you like super hero movies, look at how The Tick is a spin on the typical heroes. Like mysteries? Think about how Death in Paradise is lighthearted and fun, rather than dark and dreary like a haunted tale of murder, with a moody detective.
There are so many ways to take ideas that you have and spin them on their side. Give it a unique angle and make it your own. Don’t copy, be inspired.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn more about creating characters, be sure to read this next.