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The Best Ways to Find Ideas For a Good Story

Categories: Tip of the Day, Creative Writing Tips Tags: book excerpt, writing inspiration.

The Nighttime Novelist | ideas for a good storyIt’s fairly simple–in order to write a novel or story, you must have a solid idea first. Most writers struggle at one time or another coming up with the right story idea. After all, you want an idea that can sustain an entire story. If you’re wondering where to find creative story ideas, read the following excerpt from The Nighttime Novelist.

Where to Find Ideas For Novels Or Short Stories

It’s true that good story ideas will come to you if you learn to pay attention to what’s going on around you and recognize those moments when your mind has begun to creatively wander. But there are also other ways, and places, you might look for inspiration when you need a boost.

First Lines. Sometimes a compelling story idea comes not from any conversation overheard, or anything
you catch a glimpse of, but from a little voice that whispers a strange, interesting line in your ear … say, “I
have always had an irrational fear of first kisses” or “Her husband had become hooked on daytime soaps” or “For as long as I’d known her, Jenny claimed that her dream was to become the ninth Mrs. Larry King.” A good first line begins to suggest character, conflict, plot, tone, and theme the same way a compelling initial idea or image does. For example, what do you see present or suggested in the following first lines?

In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together. (Carson McCullers, The Heart
Is a Lonely Hunter)

Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I can’t be sure. (Albert Camus, The Stranger)

Something is wrong in the house. (Kathryn Davis, Hell)

Headlines. A well-written headline contains enough possibility to get our imaginations working in the right direction (since the headline writer wants us to be intrigued enough to wonder about the story behind the headline and read it). For the fiction writer, we need not read the piece that goes along with a good headline—and in fact we probably shouldn’t. Instead, the headline will make us want to know the story behind it and begin writing it. What really happened isn’t as important to us as what might happen.

Here are a few real-world examples to consider, any one of which might suggest a sustainable story idea:

  • 17 Burn At Same Time To Break Record
  • S.C. Cheerleader Hunts, Kills 10-Foot-Long Alligator
  • Game Show Looks to Convert Atheists
  • Jedi Thrown Out of Grocery Store

Already I can picture this poor middle-aged master Jedi, five days of stubble on his face, holding onto his box of Captain Crunch for life. “You don’t want to throw me out,” wiggling his fingers in the manager’s
face as he’s pushed out the door. “You don’t want to throw me out …”

Titles. Sometimes inspiration for a book will begin before you’ve even hit the first chapter, with a title that starts you thinking. I suspect the reason for this is that good titles are often difficult to come up with, so when a good one comes along, it suggests possibilities immediately. Keep a page in your notebook just for title ideas. One of them might bring a story along with it.

Reading. At the risk of sounding obvious, good writers are first and foremost good readers. I realize that in our rushed lives—and this is especially true for the Nighttime Novelist, who has limited spare time
and wants to use it well—it can sometimes be difficult to slow down, sit down, and enjoy a good book. But there can be nothing more instructive, nor more inspiring to your work, than reading a book from
an author who does it right. (In fact, it often takes me longer to read a great book than a bad one, simply because every few pages I have to stop to jot down some idea inspired by the text.)

It’s true that you might want to avoid other writers when you’re in the midst of your own book, for fear of being influenced too much by what you’re reading or losing the sound of your voice; that’s a matter of personal preference. But reading consistently, and reading as a writer, can be a constant source of inspiration. Find writers you love, then find the writers they love. Reading is the best creative writing
course you’ll ever take.

Other Forms of Art. Finding beautiful art that speaks to you—no matter what kind—tweaks your artist’s brain and opens you up for creative thinking. So, if you ever find yourself bereft of inspiration, go out and see a film that’s been well reviewed, or rent a classic film you’ve never seen. Take a weekend trip to an art show or go browse the art books at the local bookseller. Put on that classic album you haven’t heard in a while, turn down the lights, and really listen to it (rather than having it on as background noise while you run errands or try to get chores done). You’ll likely find a few films, albums, or artists who particularly strike you, and to whom you’ll go back many times in the course of your career for new inspiration. For me, the last ten minutes of Federico Fellini’s 8½ does the trick. All those major and minor characters from the film joining hands and dancing around together like they’re in the circus. Maybe it’s the audacity of the ending I like best; seeing another artist unafraid of taking such a big risk encourages me to be brave in my own work.

Buy The Nighttime Novelist NOW!

For more writing inspiration, check out our section of creative writing prompts.

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