6 Tips for Generating Writing Ideas
Writing ideas can be found everywhere, you just have to know where to look. Bestseller R. L. Stine tells people he gets his ideas at the “idea store,” which has three departments: experience, memory, and imagination. While it’s true not all ideas make great stories, don’t be afraid of bad ideas. Figuring out what won’t work for your writing can still help narrow the focus of your own story. Let your brain run free when trying to come up with your own original idea—you may surprise yourself with where you end up. Here are some tips for coming up with new ideas for stories:
- Use your experience. Think of any event, momentous occasion, trauma, or mundane activity you’ve experienced in your life. It could be something completely unique to your circumstances (like a specific emergency surgery), or it could be something everyone has gone through (like losing a tooth or your first haircut). The time you failed your first spelling test may not be enough for a book idea, but it could be the opening paragraph of your memoir or lead to an even bigger idea you can use. What happened leading up to that moment? What happened immediately after? Search through your life experiences to find these moments to pull from and expand into your best stories (regardless of whether you’re writing non-fiction or fiction).
- Use your memories. Your own life is a great starting point when trying to generate original story ideas. Try to remember your happiest or saddest moments—times when you were the most elated, angry, or embarrassed. Think about a moment in your life when you were truly terrified. Reach back to your memories of childhood and recall things that used to scare you. Tapping into early memories is a powerful way to discover universally frightening things. Find these moments and reflect on why you were so frightened, and include sensory details. What did you see, hear, taste, feel, and smell?
- Use your imagination. Everyone daydreams from time to time, so the next time you do, pay attention to where your mind travels. Are you thinking a lot about superheroes or a childhood pet? Think of things you love, then tweak them slightly to give them a sci-fi or dramatic spin. Pick a simple idea, then ask yourself, “What if?” What if you had a Halloween mask you couldn’t take off? Or, what if those creepy porcelain lawn gnomes came to life? While walking in a park, author R.L. Stine had the words “say cheese and die” flash into his head. From there, he imagined a camera that took pictures, but only of bad things that happen in the future. This idea became his novel, Say Cheese and Die!
- Use your observational skills. Look all around you—is there a tree in a place you’ve never noticed before? Is there a construction site that hasn’t been touched in weeks? Keep an ear out for slices of conversation. Listen to what kids say to their parents on the street. Draw from real people in your real life. Your main character doesn’t have to be based on a real person, but maybe their quirks are inspired by someone you’ve met or seen. Spend an hour in a public place full of people. This can be a park, a grocery store—anywhere. Watch where your mind wanders as you take in the sights. Write down anything that could be grown into a story. You can get an idea from anything, from any brief moment. You just have to be alert to it.
- Use writing prompts. Prompts can be great leaping off points to help brainstorm your own ideas. Sometimes you just need to start writing in order to get other ideas to flow (freewriting can also come in handy, especially if you’re experiencing writer’s block).
- Use other works. Your favorite books, television shows, films, commercials, columns—can all be used to spur inspiration and brainstorm your next great short story idea or novel idea. What if Lord of the Flies took place at an all-girl school? What would Game of Thrones look like if it took place in the United States today? You can also use familiar stories (like children’s nursery rhymes or fairy tales) to help inspire your own unique storylines and plot points. What if Cinderella didn’t like the prince? What if the witch stumbled into Hansel and Gretel’s house first? Find ways to change up the plot twists or character development to your favorite mystery thriller or science fiction movies and use that to inspire how you structure your own original idea.
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