Hello, readers of Caffeinated Fiction! I’m delighted to join you here today. One of the things people often ask me when they find out I’m a writer is, “How do you come up with your story ideas?”
Great question! I’ve put together a list of 8 different techniques I’ve used to find inspiration for my stories. Hopefully they’ll help you too!
- Asking “What if?” questions
The world is full of interesting possibilities when you start asking questions, and you can use this tactic to look for ideas wherever and whenever you have time to think.
What if the magnetic poles suddenly reversed? What if everyone born in 1999 had superpowers? What if a future version of you shows up in a time machine in your living room?
There are so many things in life we take for granted, like gravity and running water and the weather. Turn some of those things upside-down and see what happens. Once you start asking questions, you never know where your imagination will take you!
- People watching
We all do it to some degree, don’t we? People can be fascinating, from their mannerisms and appearance to the things they say and do. A little discreet people-watching is a great way to get ideas for characters or events in your story. While you’re watching, imagine who they are, why they’re there, why they’re acting the way they are. Let your mind wander and think outside the box.
I’ve had the advantage of traveling to some pretty amazing places in my life, but even local, less exotic places can be perfect settings for a story. When you go somewhere interesting, ask yourself what kind of story might happen there. Who are the people living in the area? What interesting things could happen to them?
My first novel, “Flashback,” is set in Big Bend National Park, and I came up with the story by falling in love with its setting on a camping trip back in graduate school. Big Bend is the sort of spectacular place that just begged me to tell a story about it.
- News stories
And no, I’m not just talking about politics. Any news article that catches your interest could be grounds for a great story. NASA just found 7 new planets? Maybe your characters are already on their way to start a new colony. Or maybe your character is a relief worker heading to a war-torn country in Africa, or a scientist using new gene-splicing technology. Look beyond the bare bones the news story gives you, and let your imagination run.
- Personal experiences
This one probably seems like a given, considering we writers are admonished to “write what we know.” Even if your life hasn’t been one non-stop James Bond adventure, there’s still plenty of good stuff there to use in a story when combined with your imagination. You could add depth to your characters by giving them one of your favorite hobbies, or you could tap into your own joy or fear or anger to bring a scene to life.
Personally I find the study of history to be fascinating. There’s such a vast array of possibilities as you dig into stories about the past. You can find ideas for characters, setting, themes, and events, drawing from actual events to create your fictional ones. Or you could go all in and write a story set in the historical past—just make sure to do your research!
Take a walk through a local art museum, or borrow some lovely coffee table art books from the library, or even use the internet to look at paintings and sculptures. Then let the ideas flow… Who is walking down that rainy Paris street? Who are the lovers in the rowboat? What happened on that dark, rocky island?
A lot of my dreams would make really boring stories, but every now and then I have one that contains the germ of something much more interesting. Get into the habit of keeping a notebook close at hand so you can jot down any ideas that your subconscious pulls up in your sleep. Look over them every now and then, and maybe something will strike you as the perfect idea.
In fact, for all of these methods, keeping a notebook of some type (be it digital or paper) is vastly important. Your brilliant ideas will get lost incredibly quickly if you don’t write them down. You should even write down the ones you’re not sure you’ll ever use, because you never know when they’ll come in handy.
There is a whole world of story ideas out there, waiting to be discovered. Dig below the surface. Ask questions. Imagine. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. See where your ideas take you. And be patient—sometimes the ideas just need to simmer in the back of your mind for a while before the story emerges.
Best of luck in all your writing endeavors!
Kellie M. Parker is a writer, occasional blogger, and full-time homeschool mom. She lives in west Michigan and is currently working on her first YA Fantasy, The Cursed Ones. Connect with her at http://www.kelliemichelleparker.com or on Twitter @KellieMParker .