At the core of any successful story is a great idea. So what makes a great idea? What triggers tension? What moves the plot forward in a satisfying way?
Here are four tips for finding ideas to push your writing forward:
Find a moment of truth. Maybe you have a character floating around in your head. There is a sudden realization that marks a turning point or major change. A pivotal moment where nothing will be the same again. Now, figure out what came before and what will happen after.
Create a shocking twist. You’re writing along, minding your business and suddenly your character up and does something shocking. It is unexpected. It is inevitable. It suddenly changes your story from good to great. If you’re in a stuck place, or just casting about for a story idea, ask “What if” to find your shocking twist.
Find a haunting image. Have you ever seen a painting or photograph that punched you in the chest? Stuck in your mind? We write words to create visual images in readers’ minds, so it’s not surprising that images could spark a story idea or scene. Next time you see something striking, ask yourself why it resonates. Freewrite about it. See what bubbles up.
Write about something weird. I was chatting with a plumber recently who had come to my house to do some work. We got to talking about writing and he said he had done some writing but he was stumped because all of his ideas were “weird.” My response: “And how is that a problem? Weird is good. Go with it.”
For a related post about finding ideas, read Carol’s post Four questions to help you mine your life for story ideas.
Most of my writing is personal. No matter what genre I’m writing in—poetry, creative nonfiction, or fiction—much of what I write about comes from my personal experience. In her post, “What obsessions will end up in your writing?” my blog partner, Carly, asks us to consider what events in our lives have “marked us.” Looking to these events and memories can be a treasure trove of story ideas.
What memories or stories haunt you?
I still remember reading a news article over ten years ago about an older couple that went out for a drive and got lost for three days because they both had Alzheimer’s and couldn’t remember where they lived. This short article in the paper has stayed with me all these years. Obviously, it will become a short story someday.
What poems or spoken-word performances inspire you? Read more
Stories come into being in all kinds of ways. They may start from a dream we’ve had, an overheard conversation, an image we see driving down the road, a newspaper story, or from hearing an author read their work aloud. Many of my poems or stories have come from these inspirations.
Author Neil Gaiman said his most recent book, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” started out as a story for his wife, musician Amanda Palmer. In an interview with Tim Martin for The Telegraph, Gaiman says that while she was away recording an album, he thought he’d write her a story because he missed her.
“She doesn’t like fantasy very much, but she really likes honesty, and she really likes me. Writing it was like going, look, this was me. You’re always interested in me. The family isn’t really mine, the things that happened aren’t really mine, but the landscape, the place it happens, is me, and the eyes out of which this kid looks are those of seven-year-old me.” Read more
Story ideas are everywhere but how do you find one that can sustain and excite you through the long process of writing an essay, novel, or even a short story?
Here are three earlier blog posts (including some exercises) to help you find what works for you:
Don’t write what you know, write what sets you free
Write to your white-hot center
Stuck on what to write? Consider these big ideas
Are you curious about where stories come from? How a writer comes up with a particular idea? I find it energizing to learn the story behind the story.
Some stories come to their authors in a rush, seemingly out of nowhere. Others say, a chance encounter, or an observation of something odd sparked their story. Then as they wrote, the meaning revealed itself and the language and the emotion rose to the surface and drove the story home. Read more
One of my writing friends and I were kicking around story ideas this week so we could send out pitches for freelance assignments. I analyzed how we formulated our ideas and thought I’d share these questions in case it helps spark ideas of your own.
These questions are also good for generating ideas for other writing projects, including memoirs, novels, and short stories.
What is misunderstood? Sometimes, something that you think is wrong, or misunderstood may lead you to write about it to right the wrong, shed light on a problem, or improve a process. Read more