As a fiction writer, you may have several ways of generating story ideas. Below are some of my tips on how to generate ideas for writing fiction.
Which ones can you relate to?
Your family history
Some of my best short story ideas have come from my mother. Not that she realized she was my source of inspiration at the time. She was usually just talking to me about her family. My Mum’s family have an interesting historical background rich with story ideas.
Dysfunctional families are even better. Okay perhaps not if you have to live with them day in and day out. If you are stuck with them however you might as well make that work to your advantage as a writer!
The trick of course is to change the details significantly. You don’t want to write directly about people. You don’t want to be ostracised from your family or worse sued by some irate co-worker.
With the ideas I get from my mother, I take the seed of an idea from the original story and grow it into something else. What emerges is a completely fictional story with made up characters. While the characters in my stories may have personality traits based on real people, they are fictional.
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Real life situations including your own
Life goes on all around us. Neighbours, friends, family, work colleagues, people at the bus stop, people who work behind the counter where you buy your lunch, there are story ideas floating around everywhere.
Use them to spark your imagination and don’t forget your own stories as you are busy looking at everyone else for ideas.
Again take a snippet of the idea and turn it into fiction.
Left brained friends
One of my friends is a senior level accountant. He is numbered oriented, task driven with a razor-sharp attention to detail. When I first started writing short stories he would ask me what I was writing about. As I was telling him the plot of a story, he would stare at me in fascination. The staring was usually followed by a question like, ‘How did you come up with that?’
He found the idea of creating a storyline in my head astounding. There are no spreadsheets or numbers in story writing. To him it was a foreign concept to make something out of nothing. Talking through a story idea with him one day while waiting to see a movie, I mentioned I was stuck for an idea. Wanting to help he started brainstorming.
While his suggestion for the story was not what I was looking for (it was based on an event in current affairs), there was one gem in his idea that was very helpful and is now playing a major role in the manuscript I am working on. Secretly I think my friend enjoyed taking his creative side out for a spin!
As a writer and blogger, creative types are wonderful to hang around.
Unfortunately I don’t know many other writers yet (I need to work on that) however one of my close friends studied acting and has acting experience.
Talking to her is always insightful. She can take one of my ideas and give it a totally different spin, usually something that I hadn’t thought of myself. It helps to have a creative person to bounce your ideas off.
Related post – How to Be a Fast Writer
I don’t exercise nearly as much as I should. I don’t have a car so I do walk a little bit.
Creativity speaking I should walk a lot more.
It seems nearly every time I go for a walk, I have a fresh idea pop into my head. Sitting and trying to brainstorm can sometimes feel unproductive, particularly if you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Walking however seems to open those channels and ideas come more freely. The simple tasks of walking home with the groceries from the local store has produced a range of great story ideas.
Your trigger may not be walking. Instead it could be jogging, meditating or playing basketball. Discover your trigger and repeat regularly to get the ideas flowing.
The simplest things
When I used to catch the bus to work every day I would read every morning. One, I enjoyed reading and two I also hoped reading fiction would inspire me. The strange thing I found was the most of my ideas didn’t come to me while I was reading.
Most of my fiction ideas came into my head when I was staring out the window aimlessly. Staring out at nothing in particular is when the ideas flow. Mundane boring things can make the mind wander. Next time you are washing up, ironing, vacuuming or taking a shower, do a bit of daydreaming and see what your mind brings to the table.
Truth is stranger than fiction
So I didn’t get into trouble, I always told my Mum when I used her family as an idea for a story. As I mentioned earlier I always changed the characters significantly.
Recalling a storyline to my Mother one day, she burst out laughing. Several of the plot twists I had made up for the story, were actual rumours (ie possible scandals) back in the day. Were they actually true? Well that remains a mystery.
One of the short stories I submitted to my writing teacher years ago came back with feedback that the name of the building the story had been based upon was not an appropriate name for a building of that historical period. Remember how I mentioned I tak a snippet and make it into a story. The one factual part of the story was actually the name of the building. The rest was fiction.
While you might not be a fiction writer, always look for ways to spark your creativity and fire up your imagination.
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