Jun 2, 2011

How Do You Generate Story Ideas?

by Melinda Carroll

A year ago I went to a writing class on generating ideas.  There were four authors, one very well-known, who were teaching the class.  The first thing they said was, "Generating ideas is easy.  You wouldn't be here at this workshop unless you already had plenty of ideas.  So instead, we're going to talk about..."
I was so disappointed!!!  I looked around the class thinking, "Really?  I'm the ONLY one who thinks coming up with viable story ideas can be difficult?"
I think of probably twenty story ideas a day (or more), but they never usually make through a good night's sleep.  I read a book by Orson Scott Card where he said that a good idea takes a long time to develop.  He cited Ender's Game as an example (I LOVE that book).  He said the idea for a battle school in space came to him years before the rest of the story actually took form.
So how do you generate ideas?  Do they just come to you?  Do you get inspired by other people?  Do you brainstorm?


  1. That's a heavy question! I do find that most story ideas can be developed into legitimate stories with time.

    I think the best way to continue coming up with new story ideas is to keep looking for them. And when you get one, don't just go "huh", take a minute. Think about it. The "what if" game is the most fun game to play when you're out on a date with your honey or with a trusted friend. You never know what idea seemed like just a "huh", but really has the potential of seeding a whole novel!

  2. After the fact, most writers tell you the idea for their best (or first) novel germinated a long time. Bet you have something floating around. I remember George Lucas said his idea came from reading "The Power of the Myth." So I read it and let me say if you read that book and follow it to the letter, you have Star Wars, Harry Potter, same plot. And it sells.

  3. I've had a couple of ideas come after reading obituaries. There are some very interesting people out there and sometimes truth turns out to be something you never would have imagined. Now I just need to follow up and write the dang book(s).

  4. Excellent question. How sad that an author disrespected those in attendence for a certain topic. I sometimes find ideas pop up in my head and then take over my mind 24/7. Those I have to explore or they will never leave me alone. Maybe this is why writers go crazy. Yesturday as I sat with my computer on my lap at my son's basketball camp, I noticed the synchopated rythm of the many basketballs bouncing throughout the gym. I stopped writing my other story, and watched closely letting my mind go. Soon I began to write what I saw and heard, and a new story emerged about terror in the gym. I have been working on a scary stories middle grade book. This one is turning out nicely. I have it just about fleshed out from idea, to concept, to characters and now completing the plot. I think if we will focus on all things around us and something catches our fancy . . . something that we actually get excited about, we can follow a pattern and make it work. Thanks for the thought provoking post.


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