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  • Writer's picturePaige

Three New Places to Look for Your Next Story Idea

“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” -Orson Scott Card


Once you tell your friends and family that you’re a writer, you’re bound to be asked the million dollar question: “Where do you get your ideas?” After all, you can’t be a writer without a super-unique-never-before-seen idea, right?

Wrong!

When I first started writing, I too found myself telling other writers “I only have one or two good ideas,” and “I only have it in me to do this novel thing once.” I had no clue how authors could come up with dozens of new ideas every few years and pump out books full time. Neverminded the fact that they were professionals with established writing careers, I simply could not fathom coming up with so many complex characters, plots and settings.

Websites that boasted “100 Unique Writing Prompts” and Pinterest pages filled to the brim with inspirational posts and artistic images didn’t feel like enough fuel for me to craft an entire novel. While these aren’t bad places to start identifying tropes and themes that appeal to you as a storyteller, the prompts alone were not strong enough to inspire me to write the next bestseller.

Every book starts with one of three things: plot, character, or setting. In order to create a story that feels complete, our story “stool” needs all three legs – without any one of these three pieces, your idea won’t have enough balance to stand on its own. Luckily, you can start with one of these “legs”, and use it to help inspire the other two.

These building blocks are easier to find than you might think. Instead of trolling the internet for overused, underdeveloped writing prompts, here are three unconventional ways you can start looking for your next great story idea.


1. Scour Social Media

While social media can oftentimes feel like a soul-sucking vampire, it can also be used to find unique and interesting writing ideas. The concept for my WIP came from a random Instagram advertisement for a business venture being established on the other side of the country. I saw the post, and immediately thought, “There’s a story there. No way this turns out well.” My mind was whirring with possibilities, so I flagged the post to return to later, and started typing.

I most often find myself encountering a setting or situation for a story, and then expand it into a fully fleshed out idea. Some authors create an entire story bible of histories and bloodlines for their worldbuilding, but even having a rough idea of what happened for a place like this to exist is enough to get started.

Next I drop in characters that I, as a reader, would like to see interact with said world. What kind of characters would go to a place like this? What personalities would create the most conflict or drama there?

Somewhere in the intersection of situation and characters, a plot comes along. That makes it sound easy (it’s not) but you can find your three pieces in any order. Who knows, something as simple as an advertisement could act as a springboard that will help you start planning and outlining a well rounded concept.


2. Watch the News

Another great way to find unique situations for a story to take place is to watch or read the latest news. Political conflicts, celebrities, and scientific discoveries can all be ample fuel for a great idea. For example, Suzanne Collins came up with the premise for The Hunger Games while flipping channels between reality shows and coverage of the war in Iraq. If everyday news reports are too depressing, I suggest looking up “weird” news. Things like the “Florida Man” articles, the Oddities page on Associated Press, or even a quick Google search on conspiracy theories can lead you to the most ridiculous writing prompts. Here are just a few interesting ones I found while writing this post:


  • Arizona Driver Cited for Carpooling with Inflatable Grinch

  • Menacing Wild Turkeys are Taking a New England City for Themselves

  • California Girl Licensed to Own Unicorn — If She Finds One


Oftentimes you will find that real life can be stranger than fiction. While some of these might be better for a shorter piece, they’re still helpful when you need to practice developing a character, a voice, or a relationship. What would possess a person (or turkey) to do something like this? What happens next? How did that situation even happen? You get to decide.


3. Resort to Theft


When in doubt, steal – fairly and without plagiarizing, of course. Your own life is full of inspiration for characters, situations, and places. As soon as I started the outline for my first full length novel, ideas started jumping out at me from every direction like actors in a county fair haunted house. I couldn’t stop them! Everywhere I looked I saw conflict and drama that I could draw from in a new story, or add into my existing plot.

Look to your friends, your enemies, your relationships, or even your favorite existing franchises. Think about the stories, books, and movies that you love. What about them makes it your favorite? Consider what types of environments, conflicts, and people are interesting to you, and use those pieces to inspire your characters and plots. If you want to practice a certain writing concept without the commitment, fanfiction is a great way to explore and branch out from your usual writing style.


For more on this, I will refer you to the Writing Excuses podcast episode How to Steal for Fun and Profit. The most important thing to remember is to vary your sources of inspiration and blend them together to create something new. If you do take an idea (or situation, or personality, etc.) from someone you know, make sure you have their permission.


“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”

– Henry David Thoreau


If all else fails, go and live your life – and take a notebook with you. The more you get out and experience the world, the more you will encounter places, people, and ideas that will inspire you. As soon as you decide to be a writer, the world becomes a gold mine of ideas, and when you approach life with a sense of wonder and awe, anything can become inspiration! Good luck out there, and happy writing.


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