Where do writers get their ideas?

Ask any writer where they get their ideas and you’re likely to get a variety of answers. Each writer has their own process, likely evolved over many years of writing and practice.

However, there are a several approaches to story idea that may help you get kick started, including:

  • What if. What if is the process of asking yourself questions geared toward fleshing out a story idea. For example; What if the perfect man arrived into our heroine’s life? He was handsome, strong, successful, funny, caring, intelligent and crazy about her but…. What if he was obsessed with numbers and had devised formulas that had to be followed in order for him to go forward with anything. He could only make business deals on the 13th or the 17th. He never went out on dates on odd-numbered days. He could only drive seven miles above or below the speed limit. This particular what if exercise might not result in a viable story idea but using what if has produced countless great story ideas for writers since writers have been writing.
  • Headlines. Reading the news, whether in newspapers, your favorite online news source or on television can give a writer many ideas. Particularly crime and mystery writers. News stories about mysterious disappearances, crimes and murders can easily inspire a mystery writer to get a story going.
  • Starting with a character. Starting with a character is my favorite way to flesh out a story. I start to think about something quirky I notice in someone then I start thinking about a character with that quirk, what kind of person is this? What is in their history that gave birth to that quirk. Who are their friends? What kind of work does this character do? Developing character almost always lends itself to an interesting story. Once you have created this character’s world it is often easy to see what type of conflict, trouble and victories he or she may experience.
  • Writing prompts. Writing prompts are popular as a means to get creative juices flowing. There are hundreds of websites that provide writing prompts including Writer’s Digest. Writing prompts can be challenging too, particularly if they are one or two word prompts.
  • Other people’s stories. As the saying goes, if I had a nickel for every time a person offered me a story idea, I’d be rich. It’s actually amazing to me how often a new acquaintance offers me a story idea when they discover I am a writer. I have to say my usual response is that since the person is so invested in the idea that they should write the story themselves – and I’ve never been offered an idea I’ve acted upon. However, even anecdotes told by friends can be inspiring, an interesting story from their childhood, or a harrying experience they’ve had or someone in their family had. Listen when friends tell stories from their lives, there may be gold in them thar hills.
  • Memories. Speaking of anecdotes – most people have dozens of their own stories, whether amusing, sad, happy and frightening. Think about your own life. Things that have happened to you and your loved ones. Is there a story to be told there? Chances are there is.

Inspiration is everywhere and if you’re a writer you should have your ears and eyes open at all times. You never know when inspiration might tap you on the shoulder and hand you a story that only you can write.

In the meantime, try the above methods to see if you can get your mind going and your keyboard smoking.

What about  you? Do you have a special method for fleshing out a story or coming up with story ideas? Feel free to share them in the comments section.

Writer Chick

Copyright 2011

One thought on “Where do writers get their ideas?

  1. I find that getting a snapshot, like a photo works really well, a bit like a writing prompt really, as you say! But also, I get my main inspiration from ‘what if’, what people are doing and how they got to where they are et cetera. Good post 🙂

    Hi Staycurious & welcome!
    The picture is a great idea.I know in the past I’ve done ‘story boards’ for longer projects but they were more to keep me inspired than to get me there. Although, still for novels and such I do search the internet for pictures that look like my main characters and other significant objects, locations, which I can look over and get back in that place, you know?

    Great comments. Thanks!

    Writer Chick


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