Saturday, September 19, 2009

Generating Story Ideas

If you’re looking for ways to jump-start your creative engine and maybe even generate some rudimentary story ideas, here are a few things you might want to try:

1. Start with an interesting character, and move them into an incongruous setting. A fruit-seller on a planet that is being evacuated. A clock-maker practicing his craft in the shadow of a tall volcano. A woman who became old sewing the colorful banners men carry to war.

2. Even better, invent a difficult dilemma for your character: A toy-maker is asked to make a replica of a dead woman for a grieving and very wealthy client. A street musician throws her first coin in a fountain and a fairy emerges who tells her to give up music. A lamp-lighter finds the emperor’s lost child under a lamp post.

3. Can’t come up with two ideas to cross together in this manner? Play dictionary roulette. That is to say, open the dictionary at random and point to any word without looking. Do this twice. Then write a story-starter in one or two sentences. It works like this: Reindeer/contradict. A young woman rides a reindeer to an isolated fortune-teller, who contradicts what her father’s house magician has told her about her father’s health. See how it works? (Can you cheat at dictionary roulette? Of course you can! But try to be creative with what you get, first.)

4. Think of a minor character from a book you recently read or a movie you saw. The more minor the better! The girl who sold tickets at the game – who was she yelling at on her cell phone when the protagonist only wanted his tickets? What’s her story? What about the owner of the little bakery where the antagonist liked to get his breakfast pastry? Or the ER nurse who bandaged his bullet wound? All these people should have stories of their own – stories in which the main characters of the original book or movie are so minor that they barely register.

5. Read your favorite magazine, and use one of the articles as a springboard for a story. Halloween cupcake recipes? Once a year, a baker serves sweet treats for the children of his neighborhood, to protect them from the spirits that will inhabit their parents during the night. Advice on buying a used car? A man down on his luck buys a used car and finds it comes with a new identity, and a higher price than he thought.

Inspiration is everywhere. Stories are everywhere, too, and the methods listed here are just some of the ways you might try to capture them. Even if these methods don’t provide you with your next story, at least you will have exercised your creative muscle, and maybe you will feel inspired to write your own story. Good luck!

10 comments:

  1. Your suggestions are so well crafted as to appear books waiting to be written. Gah, your brain is amazing! To be so lucky!!

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  2. You've got wonderful story-generating ideas! Thanks for sharing them.

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  3. Great post Diane! It pays to think outside the box :)

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  4. Yes, great post, Diane - sure to get the creative juices flowing. It's funny because there was a workshop at my writers' group meeting yesterday about Horror writing and several of the prompts you mention in your post could be used in that genre - I particularly loved the baker making cakes at Halloween to protect the kids from their parents at night!

    Julie

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  5. These are really great suggestions! An exercise I once did for a writing class for developing characters is to find a personal ad in the newspaper and bring the persont to life.

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  6. These are really interesting, thanks for sharing! I'll have to try some of them out some time. :)

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  7. Cool ideas.

    The lamplighter idea is sticking with me, as is the concept of using incongruity. Thanks for the post. Hopefully I will internalize it and remember all the details for that time in the future when I am in the process of writing up a character/situation.

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  8. Diane! love the post, the ideas, the brilliance of your examples -- i was thinking, "Hmm...is it stealing?" and of course, i decided it was. so i won't steal your ideas, but you must must must write them. and then enter them in the Writers of the Future contest!

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  9. Alex, you know ideas are free and easy and taking only them is not stealing. It's the writing of the story that makes it yours.

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  10. Many of my poems have been triggered by something someone says or something i read or see... But i feel we must be listening and looking to find ideas. they are out there wating for us to find them. Everywhere. I think true writers hope to inspire others with their work.

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