That’s a question I hear often. I suspect every writer does. And the truth is, I don’t always know. Some ideas just seem to find me, and then pester me until I give in and write them. Other times, I have to go looking for ideas. When that happens, there are many ways to find them, but here are a few methods you might try.
One thing I like to do is to observe people in a public place. I try to be discrete, but if I can catch a snippet of a conversation, that’s a bonus. I then try to make up a situation involving that person, and imagine how they would act. Sometimes, I try to imagine that person in a different era or place.
A writing prompt is a great tool to help get your creativity flowing. It can generate story ideas that may have never occurred to you. Prompts come in all forms, cards, books, photos, etc. A quick google search reveals over 90 million hits, including free downloads, subscriptions, and many items you can purchase. Before going down that rabbit hole, let me give you a few ideas of prompts you can easily find anywhere.
Flip through a magazine and look for a picture that catches your attention. Study it and try to imagine what is going on in the scene. Put yourself in the picture and write about it. Imagine the dangers or delights to be found there.
Newspapers from any time period are full of headlines and blurbs that you could use to write a short fiction story. Or take the lyrics to a song and write the story behind it as you imagine it to be.
A writing friend of mine said he walked up to a bookshelf, either in a store or library, selected a book at random, and skimmed enough to identify the setting. Then he grabbed a second book and skimmed to identify a situation. Then he scanned the area and selected an individual to be the main character in his story.
So, let’s say he grabbed a book set in the Old West. From the second book, he identified a situation as stranded in a snowstorm. Looking around, he noticed a woman carrying a baby. Then, it’s a matter of imagining what could happen. The process would be the same if you ended up with a post-apocalyptic setting, a heat wave, and an elderly man on a walker. Or anything in between.
The key to generating a story idea is to ask, “What if?” Then simply allow your mind to take off in any direction.
If you typically find yourself stuck writing the same genre repeatedly, it might be fun to reimagine an existing plot in a new genre. If you usually write romance, add a supernatural or fantasy twist to your story.
Or throw a horror-filled “what if” into your mainstream fiction. For example, if you have a mainstream story about a character searching for his birth parents, what if he discovers his biological parent was a witch? Or a vampire, a serial killer, or a pedophile?
There are so many story ideas out there just waiting for someone to find them and write them. What if they’re waiting for you?
Kim Vernon’s poetry and short stories have won several local, state and regional contests, most notably the 2015 Lucidity Ozark Poetry Retreat Grand Prize.