Coming up with a story idea is not nearly as hard as you might think. The trick is recognizing the idea when it shows up, grabbing it before it leaves, and then knowing what to do with it.
Ideas are all around you
Believe it or not, you’re surrounded by story ideas all the time – things that happen to you or to your friends, things you hear about or see on TV, things you think about when you’re bored or worried or not paying attention to whatever you’re supposed to be paying attention to. All of these things cause you to think. They also cause you to feel. These thoughts and feelings can lead you to a great story idea.
Don’t let them get away
The first step is noticing the thoughts and feelings that flit through your mind. They’re there, all the time, one after another. But thoughts and feelings come and go with lightning speed and are quickly forgotten. To keep this from happening, take a few minutes to list whatever’s in your mind. Once you get used to writing down your thoughts and feelings, you’ll find that practically every moment you’re awake could lead to a story. The key here is not to expect too much too soon. Most ideas won’t come at you all ready to go. It’s going to take a little more thought.
Make them bigger, better, more
Next, figure out what you’re in the mood to write. Something scary? Funny? Exciting? Troubling? Pick something from your list of thoughts and feelings that matches your mood. Then, ask yourself the most magical question of all time: What if? What if this happened or what if that happened? Would it make the idea scarier, funnier, more exciting or more troubling? Yes? Then write it down. Keep thinking. What could happen next that would make what you’ve just imagined bigger, better, more? (Tip: It helps to pace while you’re doing this. Or jog. Or walk your dog, if you have one.) Keep going until you’re so excited about the idea that you just can’t wait to write it all down. (I know my idea’s ready when my hands start to itch and I start yanking out drawers in a frantic attempt to find a pen or pencil.)
Make sure your idea makes sense
You’re getting there but you’re not quite done, not yet. Because with every “what if” you come up with, you also have to answer “why.” What would cause whatever you’ve imagined to happen? (Another tip: You get extra points every time your “what if” makes things worse for your main character. You also get extra points every time your main character causes the worsening trouble to happen.)
Come back tomorrow for a real-life example.