5 Ways to Come Up With Great Story Ideas

We all have a million excellent ideas for stories, but, without fail, they magically disappear the minute we sit down to write. It seems impossible, but it happens constantly. Hours are wasted staring at a blank page. And, no matter how many cups of coffee are in our systems, we still can’t find the energy to kick our muses into gear and develop story ideas.

Have no fear: I have five ways that will help pump up your creativity muscle and build story ideas that will keep you writing for hours on end. Here they are.

Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

1. Reinvent a scene from a book.

Take a very small, seemingly non-important scene from one of your favorite books and consider what it’d be like if that were the opening scene to your novel. Change the characters of course, and add one or more unique elements to that scene. The key is to give you a starting point and then let your imagination run wild. While there are many ways to stay inspired, this challenge really takes something that you love (an old book) and gives it new life.

2. Use junk mail as inspiration.

Take the next two pieces of spam mail you receive (either snail mail or e-mail) and use it to determine the profession on your protagonist and your protagonist’s love interest. I get this type of mail all of the time, particularly from politicians, credit card companies and auto dealerships—and that’s just what’s delivered by the United States Postal Service! When I add in the junk sent to my e-mail inbox, I get “foreign ambassadors from Nigeria” looking for million dollar loans and women begging me to click through to get “erotic” pictures of them. Any one of these jobs will lead to many fun and unusual situations—and will give you plenty of fodder to write about.

3. Invent a history for someone with whom you’ve lost touch.

We have all had friends in our lives from grade school, high school or college that we knew quite well back then, but haven’t seen much (if at all) since. In fact, most of their lives are a mystery to us. Pick one of those old friends and write about the life they’ve been leading ever since you lost touch. What happened in his or her family life? What career path did he or she choose? Was he or she involved in something that led them to a life of crime? The possibilities are endless, which should drive you to be as creative as possible.

4. Eavesdrop on a conversation.

Just because you’re stuck in a bit of a funk when it comes to ideas doesn’t mean that other people are. Take your notepad or laptop out of the house, sit down somewhere and observe the scenery around you—and listen to any and every conversation within earshot. You can do this at a park, restaurant, coffee shop or, my personal favorite, a bar (people who have a few drinks in them tend to share the best stories). Remember, jot down all the stories you hear but be sure to give them a twist to make them your own.

5. Find a writing prompt and run with it.

Sometimes the best cure for writer’s block is to let someone else start your story for you. You can search the web and find a number of sites that offer them, or check out our database of creative writing prompts that gets updated every Tuesday. And who knows: The idea you get from a writing prompt may be just the inspiration you need to spark your creativity and write a short story or novel that sells.

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16 thoughts on “5 Ways to Come Up With Great Story Ideas

  1. Avatardnschmidt

    Art is also a great source of story ideas. If I look at a piece of art and ask myself “What are these people talking about? How did they get here? What will they do next?”, my mind starts filling with ideas for possible stories.

  2. AvatarMagykalsprite

    If I remember my dream, I usually change it just a tad bit if I don’t like exactly what happened, and go from there. Pinterest also has some great writing prompts you go branch off from! But these ideas are pretty good too!

  3. AvatarFictionAddicted

    I usually start with the “what if…” question, like: “What if…you’d wake up one morning ten years ago as your younger self?” Funny how many what if’s you can come up with in a day, especially the ever present “What if… I had actually time to make something out of my “what if’s”.

  4. AvatarRobert_Hil

    I must say that I am not a fan of your first idea. To me, this skirts the edges of what some might think is plagiarism, even if you change the names, environment and other key factors.

    At the same time, I will acknowledge that most every piece written is a retelling of another story, either spoken or written. Yet there exist a difference between retelling a story, written independent of anything written before and taking a scene from another’s work and changing it to become your own.

    I know my literature professor would have reported me to the college for plagiarism, had he even the suspicion that what I had written was anything like what another had written. I would then have to prove that I hadn’t copied or plagiarized what I was calling my work. Many found him to be a hard professor to deal with, but thankfully I am afflicted with ADHD, and can invent saga’s stories based upon mundane objects like a penny or pen.

  5. AvatarFeanor the Dragon

    When I get writer’s block, I like to open up MS Word, type in a single word (like ‘no’ or ‘light’) let my mind wander a bit and see where that word takes me. Sometimes, if I can’t come up with anything for a the word I chose, I’ll ask someone for a random word.
    …This is extremely entertaining to do if I happen to be out and about, because when I walk up and say, “Quick! Gimme a word!” to a total stranger, it’s really quite astounding how often the person will actually give me a word before they realize that they have no idea who I am.

  6. Avatardebhathaway

    In a past life I owned a few bookstores in Princeton, NJ. One day a teenager came in one of the stores and asked everyone he met what their favorite word was… and made a notation in his notebook. When approached and asked why he was doing this he replied… “I am using these words as writing prompts, you know, for when I can’t think of anything to say.”

    Genius! I gave him my favorite word… Incredulous.

  7. AvatarWordsmith49

    I find a good inspiration is to look out of the window and write a sentence about the first thing that moves.
    One sentence is usually enough to wake up my muse.
    In situations where there are several things in motion pick the one on the edge of your vision, it’s often not what you thought after you’ve looked at it properly——-but hey you’ve started writing!

  8. Avatardebby.willett

    These were all great ideas … BUT, I find my best writing ideas by watching or listening to online movies or TV shows. Either I’m writing or taking a break and suddenly I’ve heard a phrase that has just caught my attention and I have ‘rewind’ to get the full effect.

    Sometimes I need the full context and sometimes I don’t. But I always … always have a notebook handy for these snippets where I can go back for these jewels. It may be a song, a quote, an episode title, or something else … but there is always something to catch my attention. My notebooks range from children’s possibilities to general to crime (police, poisons, murder, etc.), and Christian. I keep everything well organized and labeled so I don’t spend hours having to go back searching for that ‘perfect’ whatever.

    But writer’s block — it never happens to me. It’s just the opposite. Ideas … possibilities … for me, it’s where do I stop?

  9. AvatarTom Bentley

    Brian, I particularly like 1-3, which demonstrate that ideas are all around you, but you just have to tilt your head (and mind) to see them. And of course, to act upon them by actually taking them out of that head and on to the paper or the screen. Thanks for your insights here.

    I am often delighted to find that writing ideas—and sometimes what seem to be fully formed paragraphs—regularly jump into my head when I’m out exercising. Riding a bicycle in particular seems to be the mechanical muse. Of course, then I have to try and remember what the ideas were at the end of the ride. Time for that digital recorder…

  10. AvatarNORTHERNwrites

    Use the first thought you have the minute you wake up, as a story starter. Depending on what kind of dreams (or nightmare) you wake up from – could be very interesting.

  11. Avatarchrystal1331

    Have used all of those ideas at one time or another. I also pay attention to any dreams I have. I recall events or scenes or people from dreams then add them to a story. I also think in What Ifs and ask myself all kinds of questions. I also ask people at my local library that are in my target audience whether YA or adult if they read a certain genre. If they do I ask what they would like to see in a novel then I use their suggestions as jumping off points for plots or scenes. Hope this helps other writers out there.

  12. AvatarSharon

    Eeeeeeek! Just what I need, more ideas I can’t get to! Thanks, these are great. When I’m really stuck for an idea I pick a word and write an essay or story based on the letters in that word. For example: love. Lighthearted, officious, valiant, emotional. That becomes the prompt and you go from there. Read the newspaper. Truth really is stranger than fiction. When you drive down the street and see an interesting house, think about what goes on behind the curtains and then write about it.


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