3 Ways to Get Your Next Story Idea

by Emily Wenstrom | 2 comments

Story ideas often come to us almost out of thin air—whether from an overheard conversation in a coffee shop, or just a random thought that pops into your head in the shower. But other times, you’re ready to write a new story and all that you’ve got is the blank page in front of you.

3 Ways to Get Your Next Story Idea

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt (Creative Commons) Adapted by The Write Practice.

That’s okay! There are a number of tried and true methods to jumpstart your brain and draw those story ideas out. Here are my three go-tos:

1. Free Write

Grab a pencil and three sheets of paper, and start writing down whatever comes to your mind. Literally.

If your hand is tired from pulling the pencil across the page, write it down. If you think this is stupid and you can’t believe you’re doing it, write it down. Whatever.

But start with your goal in mind, stated as a question: “What can I write a story about?”

One rule: Do your freewriting by hand on real paper, not on a computer. Something about handwriting forces your brain to slow down and quiet a little.

This exercise takes about 15 minutes, and I never come out of a freewriting session empty handed.

2. Wordmapping

Open the dictionary to a random page, point your finger to a random word, and write it down in the middle of a piece of paper. Set a timer for five minutes. Ready? Go!

Using that word as a jumping off point, map out as many different thoughts from that word as you can. Don’t worry if they’re too small, too big, too ridiculous, too dumb, have no way to tie into a story.

The goal here is quantity, not quality, so turn off your inner editor and just keep writing down the thoughts. As you start building up threads around your anchor word, feel free to do the same to one of your spinoff words too, as they inspire you.

When the timer dings, look over the story idea web you’ve created. I promise there are seeds of new stories in there, so find them.

3. Writing prompts

There’s a ton of great writing prompt sources out there, from websites to entire books of them. Use them! They can stretch your thinking in new directions and give you story ideas you might not find on your own.

The Write Practice offers a prompt right here on the blog weekly, or check out our 14 Prompts ebook. Another one of my favorites is DIY MFA’s Writer Igniter (full disclosure, I contribute to DIY MFA).

Whatever You Do, Don’t Let Creative Blocks Slow You Down

Sometimes story ideas come to us on their own, but when they don’t, don’t let it stop you from creating great stories—just find a way to jumpstart the process.

Keep these brain-boosting methods on hand, and you’ll never have to be pushed around by the blank page again.

How do you come up with your story ideas? Let us know in the comments section.

PRACTICE

Pick a tactic from this post and take it for a test run. When you’re done, flesh out your results into a story concept.

Share the method you chose, how you felt about it, and your story idea below in the comments—and be sure to give feedback to others, too!

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By day, Emily Wenstrom, is the editor of short story website wordhaus, author social media coach, and freelance content marketing specialist. By early-early morning, she is E. J. Wenstrom, a sci-fi and fantasy author whose first novel Mud will release in March 2016.

2 Comments

  1. Gary G Little

    I wrote this from a bunch of writing prompts I found online.

    The asteroid was hurtling straight for Earth, which was very good for Earth, but not so good for the asteroid.

    “Lunar Approach, November six four two three one with you on thirty-three point two out of LaGrange four, over,” said John Reid as he drifted just above the command chair.

    “Uhh Roger three one … I show you as a Boeing Orbital Mining, Heavy, registered as ‘The Lone Ranger’. Souls on board?”

    “Twelve of us are ten toed bipeds, onboard AI is an Echo Delta India mark III.”

    “Destination,” said Lunar Approach?

    “Inbound for rendezvous with bogey niner-three.”

    “So you’re the guys we been wait’n for.”

    “Yup,” said John, “Hi yo Silver.”

    “Huh? Oh … gotcha,” says Lunar Approach.

    John scowls and says, “He didn’t get that. Bet he has no idea who the Lone Ranger is.”

    “Who could tell? Just because our video library includes every episode, and our John Reid is a black guy from Dallas, Texas,” George says and drums out the William Tell Overture.

    “Three one, you are cleared for approach with bogey niner-three and an initial orbital burn for Earth insertion orbit. Contact Earth approach on twenty-three point five.”

    John keys the mike and says, “Three one cleared for approach and initial orbital insertion. Contacting Earth approach on twenty-three point five. Three one out.”

    John chuckled to himself and says to George, “seventy-five years ago momma earth would be all a gog and a flutter with televangelist proclaiming the end of the world and Jihadist yelling something about death to the evil Satan. Today, we simply repurpose a piece of orbital heavy processing equipment, move the latest asteroid of armegeddon into Earth orbit and then eat the sucker, gorging on all that beautiful nickle iron, cobalt, and any other heavy metals it may have collected over its 5 billion years. Got a snowball? No prob, bro. Melt it down and use all that water and HE3 for our space habs. The times they are a chang’n.”

    Turning to George he says, “Ok, set us up for an approach with the bogey. I’m gonna go down to Engineering and talk to Malcolm.”

    “You betch’m Kemo sabe,” said George, a pure blooded Apache from Sierra Vista, Arizona.

    Wencing, John says to no one, “How did a guy named John Reid get saddled with an Apache on a ship named ‘The Lone Ranger’?”

    Taking an undirected query as a verbal que, Edi, the onboard AI says, “‘The Lone Ranger’ was the next unused name in the lexicon for ore processing orbital equipment.”

    “Oh, yeah,” says John, “personally I think it was an AI conspiracy. Last I heard Allen Rogers was skipper of ‘The Double R Bar'”.

    “That is pure coincidence, I assure you John,” Edi says.

    “Really? Then how do you explain Bill Boyd as skipper of ‘The Hopalong’?”

    Silence.

    “Damn, I think you got him skipper,” George says.

    “Hi yo Silver,” says John as he pushes off for the aft hatch. Smiling he looks at George, drifts out the hatch, and says, “Carry on, Tonto, and make sure Silver gets a bucket of oats.”

    The asteroid continues hurtling straight for the Earth, not realizing the Earth has the asteroid right where it wants it.

    Reply
  2. shelbyfeels

    Food and music are my main inspirations, however I tried the word mapping technique. The word I chose was “spawl”: a small splinter or wood fragment. It immediately took me to a place on a playground where a little girl is feeling so free, playing with her friends and being in control of her own fun. Suddenly, while on a wooden see saw, a spawl gets inside her finger as she takes hold of its handle. The fun and playfulness stops, and she she immediately screams and cries as if it’s the end of the world. The adult in charge rushes over and realizes that there’s a splinter or “spawl” in her tiny finger. It’s such a simple and common wound. She can definitely fix this one. However, the child continues to scream, preventing the woman to touch her. No matter how “simple” this spawl accident seems, she screams for the one person no one can fix it: daddy.
    The little girl patiently waits for her father to arrive. The thought of him coming to the rescue somewhat drowned out the mighty fearful pain of the spawl.
    That evening, her father removed it. Earlier that day, she was the big 5 year old who had the monkey bars and see saws mastered, she even got the chance to lead the line out to the playground. Yet TONIGHT, she was daddy’s baby. She fell asleep in his lap as the swelling from the spawl’s presence being to disappear. Daddy took on a strange, hurtful fragment that caused her to hurt so loudly, and removed it from her world.That makes life okay. Daddy makes life okay:always.

    Reply

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