Where Do Story Ideas Come From?

Summer Joy

Where to Start?
One of the most common questions a published writer is asked is where they get their story ideas. New writers sometimes think ideas just pop into an author’s head … or else they use some secret formula.

Many newbies think if they could learn this magic technique they could write best-sellers, too.

But fully-formed story ideas don’t just pop into an author’s head. Not usually, anyway. Nor do those authors have some magic formula.

They don’t need one. The truth is they probably already have more great ideas than they could ever write.

Great Ideas Come From the Act of Writing
Every how-to book on writing will tell you what you need is a solid premise. What they rarely tell you is where this story idea comes from in the first place.

This often causes a great deal of frustration in beginning writers because of the mistaken belief that the creation of a solid story idea is an event.

Theoretically, I suppose it could happen that a story would pop into the mind of a writer fully formed. But sitting in front of a blank page waiting for inspiration to strike is not a recipe for success.

The truth is that coming up with a full, rich story idea is a process. Knowing this is the key to generating ideas. Once you free yourself from the concept of a story idea as an event, you’ll be amazed at how much there is to write about.

The Secret to Endless Ideas
The secret to generating ideas is the same “secret” that solves every writing problem: writing itself. You can start with almost anything you find interesting and collect ideas as you go through your daily life.

Maybe it’s a location that fascinates you, a likable (or despicable) character you know, a clever line of dialogue you hear, or even a great title. You actually need very little inspiration to start writing. I started my fourth novel after imagining a great last sentence!

Hopefully, you’ll begin to notice when things you see or hear give you that little tingle that says there’s something there worth exploring. Pay attention and jot it down.

Write First, Edit Later
When you sit down later to write, just pick one of your notes and begin writing about it … what it makes you think of, how it makes you feel, what questions it raises … and write fast.

One of the keys to idea generation (and writing in general) is to write as quickly as you can. You don’t want to analyze anything yet. You want a volume of words on the page.

Even if you find yourself writing about something completely different from what you originally started … just go with it. The idea is not to stress about structure, not to analyze where the story is going, not even to think about it as a story yet.

You want volume, varied thoughts, and a wealth of possibilities. Don’t make any decisions; just stay open and receptive to whatever comes. You will be amazed at what’s in your brain just waiting to spill out onto the page.

How it Works
This process of starting with story nuggets and expanding them is the core of story idea generation. Stephen King wrote about it in his fabulous book On Writing. If you haven’t read it yet, you should.

As you explore your story nuggets, ask questions and follow your answers wherever they lead. Don’t try to force your thoughts into a story yet. Keep things loose and continue asking and answering questions. Feel free to backtrack and choose different answers.

And remember to write a lot. Volume is your friend. Ask a question, answer it, repeat. Keep at it for a few sessions and you will be amazed at the material you’ll generate.

By feeding your brain a fertile mountain of images, characters and possibilities it goes to work trying to make sense of it all. This process is the truth of where great story ideas come from. It’s like magic when it happens, and I promise it happens every single time.

A Bottomless Well of Ideas
You may find yourself coming up with multiple story ideas based on the same initial nugget … and that’s great! Choose one idea and work on it until it’s done. File the others for later use.

When the pros say they have more ideas than they could ever work on in a lifetime they aren’t merely showing off (well, maybe some of them are … a little), it’s simply that the process of working on one idea always creates new ideas.

That’s the secret to a lifetime of story ideas.

The Official Book Trailer for “Street Light”

New reviews are in for my latest novel, “Street Light.” One is from Top Book Reviewers and the other is posted by Readers Favorite. I’ll let them speak for themselves.


My books have garnered some terrific reviews. You can see the stories I have available by using the Amazon link below.

buy now amazon

You’re also invited to visit my web site, BROKEN GLASS, or like my Book of Face page. You can also follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.


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