Finding Story Ideas

Need help finding story ideas?

One of the most common questions I’m asked is, “Where do you get your ideas?”

I’ve always said that if you ask me to write a story about a woman in a red dress sitting at a bar, I can do that without batting an eye, but ask me to write a story about whatever I want, and I can feel the panic setting in.

foundations of storytelling for writers - finding story ideas

So, here are a few of my favorite ways to generate ideas:

1. Consider what you’re reacting to. If you have an opinion, maybe you have a story idea. When someone posts an update on Facebook that makes my eyes roll, I often find that there’s a story there (I’m a contrary person, so a lot of times my ideas have to do with “what is the opposite of what everyone else is writing about these days?”)

2. Be mindful of your ideas. Ideas flit into your mind all the time. They just flit out again if you don’t pay attention. So, start paying attention.

3. Think about markets. It’s easier for me to think of an idea for a personal finance story to pitch an editor I know at Bankrate.com than it is for me to think of an idea.

4. Respect the idea. If an idea comes to you, pin that sucker down. I was sitting at a beachside diner last summer, chatting with my daughter and waiting for a storm to pass when I had an idea. I grabbed a pen and some napkins and caught that idea before it went away (see illustration).

5. Listen and watch people. I do a lot of work in coffee shops and not just because I get tired of my living room. People spark ideas all the time. Be open to finding story ideas in everyday life.

6. Keep a journal. I have vivid dreams about all kinds of things, and I’ve written several books based on themes or feelings that arose when I was dreaming. I wrote those ideas down before I forgot them.

7. Think about what you know. For years what I knew about was martial arts. I tried to find ways to talk about martial arts that not everyone was already doing.

8. Research. Sometimes we think that ideas should just come to us out of the blue, but they don’t. They have context. So, if you have an area of interest, try reading the newest studies about it. Take a class. Talk to a teacher. Go to the library.

9. Develop a habit. Look for ideas. Look for them everywhere. Write them down.

Pretty soon your problem won’t be not enough ideas but too many ideas to ever be able to write about in this lifetime. That’s a good kind of problem to have.

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