A Writer’s Source of Ideas

The Idea Factory by Ryan Lanz

For “I,” I wanted to write about ideas.

Some writers have no trouble coming up with ideas. Others have a few thoughts of what they’d like to write about–a particular character or genre, perhaps–but need help coming up with the rest of the story. The plot, the description, the “meat” that makes the story long enough to be a novel.

And this is where story ideas come in.

Ryan Lanz, a blogging friend of mine, has written a great book full of writing ideas and prompts designed to help you find words and inspiration when they don’t seem forthcoming. He points out that we don’t have to wait for inspiration to strike.

We can go hunting for it, stalking it in its lair. And here’s some of the places where we might find it.

  • Music. Many songs are snapshots of a story. A character is singing about his or her life circumstances, often full of emotion. What better place to find a story?
  • History. The past is already a story, ready to be modified to suit our specific needs, and while recent history is not ideal for fiction (given that it’s nice not to offend our friends and neighbors, if possible), the more distant past is certainly fair game for being turned into a story idea.
  • Other novels. We can’t duplicate what we find in other novels, but we can certainly take note and come up with our own ideas. A girl dreams of becoming a musician but gets sidelined by a boyfriend (or her induction to a fantasy world). What if something else had happened to her? What if she’d been kidnapped by pirates? In a car accident? A premade storyline can certainly help us learn how plots work and let us play with changing certain elements, even if our practice never makes it to print.
  • What if? The simple question of “What if this happened…” is a great way to come up with stories. What if there were wizards in the old west? What if dinosaurs were used as siege machines in the middle ages? What if there were zombies in Pride and Prejudice“? What if…
  • Writing Prompts. A short, starting sentence or a collection of elements can get your creative juices going and get you from writer’s block to wordy wonder (or whatever we call it when we can hardly type fast enough). Even though a few elements or emotions may seem like a weird starting point, it can serve as creative shorthand for a full, complex story. (Like how baseball, regret, a gun wound and a childhood sweetheart all factor into The Natural. Or robots, a kidnapped princess, hope, and a smuggler all came together in Star Wars: A New Hope.) Sometimes, your mind just needs a nudge, and a good writing prompt can supply this.

What about you? Where do you get your story ideas from? Is there a particular source or do you just “write”?

11 thoughts on “A Writer’s Source of Ideas

  1. Music is VERY inspirational to me. So are visual mediums like TV shows and movies. In fact I just wrote a novella based loosely on an idea I saw in a short film. Ideas can come from anywhere!

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  2. I love history and current events as places to get ideas, but the connection to history is a little stronger for me, I think. I don’t really use music as the idea, itself, but more as a way of settling into the ideas that I’m working with. More wordless classical for me!

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    1. Wordless classical…ah, yes. Personally, I gravitate towards wordless Celtic, if I want something that won’t distract me, but sometimes, the right song that actually speaks to the characters emotions in a scene can help me focus.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  3. Yes! This is where I am stuck…the actual plot, what happens in the meantime. Good suggestions! Happy a-z!

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  4. A great list, Andrea. Ideas come on a whim, at times, and after long introspection other times. We allow them room, they will come. While I don’t have a source I refer to, I let anything get in — what I read, a conversation, someone’s story. Before long,the beginning of a story materializes. Thank you.

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    1. Creative soup: I remember Tolkien saying once that he used a similar method. A bit of this, a piece of that legend, a helping from that story-myth all stirred together in the fiction pot to make a novel. 🙂

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  5. As long as I can remember, ideas have tended to just pop into my head. Sometimes I’m inspired by something in another book, something that happened to me, or the story behind a song. Indeed, my book Little Ragdoll is my imagining of the growing-up story and unusual rags to riches, happy ever after of a girl who could’ve been the real-life girl who inspired The Four Seasons’ famous song “Rag Doll.”

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  6. A lot of my ideas come to me randomly while I’m going about my daily life, but when I need an idea I often turn to music, particularly nonlyric music; soundtracks from movies, shows, video games, etc. There are even a fair number of bands like Two Steps From Hell that are creating soundtracks that have no scenes associated with them.
    I think nonlyric music is particularly useful because it has no direct translation into words, which makes it a wonderful Rorscach writing prompt.
    More than once I’ve done a group writing exercise with music, and it’s been very interesting to see how some songs seem to suggest similar scenes to everyone, while others range from tragic to light-hearted writing.

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