The Story Idea

Question: Where do you get your ideas?

Answer: The Bees.

Apparently, many authors dislike being asked where they get their ideas. They tell tales of elves, goblins or fairies that write their stories in the night for a terrible fee, or they say something even less welcome, such as: “the cookie jar” or “from the idea tree, of course.”

Perhaps one of the reasons for this apparent grumpiness/playfulness, is that there are stories everywhere. You don’t need to look any further than the daily newspaper, the dream you had last night, or what happens the next time you step out of your front door.

In any typical story, the thing that makes it worth telling, and re-telling, is that there is an obstacle. You have a hero or heroine. He or she wants something. Desperately. But someone or something is in the way. How he or she succeeds – or fails – to get what he or she desires is a central component of a story.

With that basic framework in place – bend it, shape it, see what happens – you can let your creativity fill in the details.

Many a great story-teller has developed an idea from the words: “What if …”

A great story idea can hit you any moment, whether you are looking for it or not. You might be on the edge of sleep when the strangest most wonderful idea floats to the surface. You could be waiting in line at the store, or gazing out of the window during a commute. The key is to be receptive to these flashes. One of the differences between writers and, well, almost everyone else, is that writers collect these ideas in notebooks and they might look at them from time to time. These ideas, daydreams, and imaginings, become stories that other people will love to read.

So, as mentioned at the beginning of the post, here are the be’s to help you generate and collect story ideas.

Be perceptive.

These flashes of inspiration, genius, brilliance, luck, or whatever you call it, can come at any time. It’s important to recognize them as being different to idle thoughts. You’ll know, because you’ll feel it. These are the ideas that excite you. They might make you smile. Don’t ignore them. This is part of what it is to be a writer.

Be prepared.

Keep a writing pad in your car, beside your bed, and in your bag. That’s only three pads. You might need more. A pen or two will be useful too. Having paper but no pens is a potentially devastating and frustrating writer mistake.

Be playful.

Nurture your idea, yes, but have fun with it too. Stretch it to see how far it could go. Turn it upside down and see what falls out.

Be patient.

You might decide that you like the way the wind blows through the trees. While that in itself doesn’t seem like much of a story, the image may keep coming back to you. Let it.

It’s a good idea to write the idea down, but don’t expect to capture it all in one frenzied sitting. Give it time to grow. You might find that your short story has enough depth to fill a novel, or that your novel idea has deep enough roots to become a series.