Five Steps for Generating New Story Ideas Out of Practically Nothing

Nov 3, 2011

In tribute to my came-up-with-it-in-ten-minutes story idea I'm doing for NaNo, I wanted to talk about story ideas. I'm not currently at a loss for story ideas, and I'm sure many of you are in the same boat. I get story ideas that just hit me out of nowhere.

But today, I want to talk about how to sit down and say, "I'm going to come up with a new story idea right now," and actually do it. In other words, turning the idea process into something conscious. Here's how you can come up with a story idea from practically nothing in mere minutes.

Really. You can. I promise.

I know what you're thinking.

Okay, maybe you're not. Maybe you're thinking, "Well, sure, a few ideas in a few minutes is nothing." Or maybe you're thinking, "A basic idea, yeah, but what about everything else to fill in the blanks?"

I've talked before about taking an idea and turning into into a story-worthy concept. I still stand by that post, but today, let's just talk about having FUN with your ability to create ideas.

Don't restrict yourself.

It doesn't have to be the greatest idea since Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. You're not worrying about writing the Great American Novel, here. We're focusing on just writing A novel. Preferably one you think will be fun. So you don't have to find the IT concept or the IT character. I mean, Twilight is about a moody girl who falls in love with a vampire. Not the most original thing ever, and look where it went.

So let your imagination roam free. Which leads to...

Do something that lets your mind wander.

For me, doing dishes or taking a shower is great for lightbulb moments. Try doing something physical that takes no brain power, like running or vacuuming or whatever mind-numbing task you've been putting off. If your hands (or body) are busy, it's easy for your mind to play.

Start with anything.

Really. Anything. For Warped, I started with the idea for a setting-- a century-old hotel in San Francisco where I stayed while filming an international harp conference in college. I played with the idea, remembering rooms and banquet halls and creepy balconies. All I needed was that one idea, and things began to sprout. "What could happen in that place? Who would it happen to? Why is she there? Who's that creepy guy in the corner I keep picturing? What does he want?"

Use all the question words-- how, why, who, when, where, and what if?

Add anything else.

As your mind wanders, it'll probably come up with something you've been wanting to play with for a while. Or maybe something totally new, some weird thing or person you read about on CNN this morning. Add it to the starting idea, and let them mate. So what if they have nothing to do with each other? MAKE them have things in common. You're the creative genius here!

Fit your idea into the basic formula used for querying/logline writing: character, conflict, choice, consequence. 

Define each of these by using and expanding upon your idea-- you've got a character with a problem who has to make a choice or else DIRE BAD THING will happen.

Bada-boom. Idea is hatched. Now go write. Or outline, or whatever it is you prefer to do with a new story idea.

A few last tips-- don't be afraid to throw ideas away. Typically, the first ideas you come up with aren't the most creative ones. If you think of something better, throw that first idea out. Also, don't be afraid if you think your idea is too similar to XYZ BOOK by Most Popular Author. After you're done playing with the idea, it'll probably be pretty darn different.

So, my friends, remember-- the human brain was designed to create. Have confidence in your own creative brilliance! How do you come up with story ideas? Do you ever do it as a conscious process, or is it just a "hits me in the middle of the night/shower/drive down the interstate" kind of thing for you?


Angela Cothran said...

I love these tips :) One thing I love about writing is that it doesn't have to be perfect the first time around.

Ghenet Myrthil said...

Great tips! I have seeds of ideas for my next book (for when I'm done revising my WIP) so I'll need to take time to let my mind wander to fill in the holes. It's a good thing I recently took up knitting. :)

Sarah Allen said...

Ok, I love these tips! So great.

But what I really want to say is OMG OMG OMG I LOVE LOVE LOVE DAVID TENNANT!!!!!!

Ok, that's all :)

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Shallee said...

I love him too! Is it silly to admit I played around with the wording of this post just so I could figure out how to put that GIF in? lol

mshatch said...

great tips! Luckily, I never lack for story ideas, just the time in which to bring them all to life!

Abby Fowers said...

Great tips! I feel like the little engine that could... "I think I can, I think I can..." lol. But really - we can!

Anonymous said...

Oooh, I love these tips! If I didn't already have eight million (as it seems!) ideas, I'd totally sit down and try to design a novel in 10 minutes. ;) Great advice, sounds like fun. Creation is definitely the best function of the human brain.

J E Fritz said...

I love these. I usually get ideas as those in-the-middle-of-the-highway ones, but they're usually small. It takes me a while to expand them, but maybe I'll be able to utilize these tips.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Great tips, Shallee. Just the post I needed to read to get my creativity kick starting.

bekahjane said...

great tips!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Like MsHatch, I never lack for ideas, it's just finding time to write them all and finish books. I have others waiting in the wings, which sometimes makes me impatient to finish the current one and wish that it didn't need so many rewrites. But these tips are great -- and they can probably be applied to my issue too.

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

I'm not really lacking in ideas right now either, but this is helpful. I have this novel I need to write. I know the characters and the setting, but I don't have a plot, so this is brilliant timing. Thank you, Shallee!!


Anonymous said...

fab tips Shallee. I find walking and showers and ironing work for me.

Adrienne said...

Those are all fantastic tips! My best ideas seem to come while I'm washing dishes or driving, I just need to remember to stash some notebooks around the house and in the car.

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