Easy tips that will help you come up with ideas for short stories and novels.
By far, the most common question that authors are asked is, “How do you come up with your ideas?” Here are some great ways to stimulate your creativity and spark a great story idea.
- Read the news. The daily newspaper is a great source of inspiration, regardless of what genre you write in. New technology can spark a sci-fi idea. Celebrity scandal can be great fodder for a confession-style novel. Unusual crimes, political instability, business maneuvers, even the obituaries can jog an association and get your creative juices flowing.
- Reverse an expectation. Taking a person, group of people or situation and making it the opposite of what is expected can make interesting stories. For example, in my first novel I took a homeless man and made him into my protagonist. Taking someone that we sniff at as we drive past them at 60 MPH and making him sympathetic challenged me as a writer and made for an interesting tale. For more details, read Lesson 10: Reversal of Expectation.
- Mix and match. Sometimes you can get a new idea by combining two or more traditional genres into the same story. How about a romantic novel that takes place on a space station? How about a horror novel set in a Western town at the turn of the century? Playing with genre conventions like this can create a very fresh feeling story.
- Revamp a classic. There are many classic stories that can be reinvented or retold with a new slant. For example, nearly every vampire novel ever written either uses or reverses the standards set by the novel “Dracula” by Bram Stoker. Take a classic that you have enjoyed, analyze what you like about it, and see if you can add to its high points while injecting your own flavor and improving the elements that you didn’t enjoy about the original.
- Do a technological update. Revolutions in communications, transportation, medicine and other technologies make some stories obsolete, while at the same time opening new possibilities. Think about the invention of the cell phone. How did that alter the old “car breaks down in a deserted area” type horror novel? You can take an old storyline and apply new technologies to it to see what problems it eliminates, and more importantly, what new problems it creates.
- Travel! Visiting new regions, climates and countries stimulates your creativity and gives you a new perspective on your home life. Whenever you have the time and money, see new places as much as possible.
- Try new hobbies. Almost anything new that you learn can give you ideas for a story. Adventurous hobbies tend to help the most. Outdoor activities like whitewater rafting, hiking and camping not only provide an instant change of scenery but also help by providing an atmosphere void of “civilization chatter,” allowing you to be absorbed in your own thoughts without the television/radio/computer demanding a portion of your brainwaves. Learning about new cultures through museum tours, art galleries and other cultural areas of interest can provide a good perspective. Attending theater plays, ballet and opera can help you to explore your own emotions and appreciate how visuals and ambiance can stimulate certain feelings.
- Change your crowd. Meeting interesting, intelligent and well-traveled people is a good way to stimulate thought, which spawns ideas. Having a friendly debate with someone who thinks opposite of the way that you do can help you to more strongly define your own values and also expose yourself to alternative ways to think. Try making friends with people who are in different categories of age, ethnicity and culture than you. Not only will this help with ideas, but it can also give you inspiration for new characters to people your novel.
- Explore your family tree. You can be pleasantly surprised at the exploits of your own ancestors. The true life adventures of your past family can be a good source of storytelling.
- Imagine the sequel to a favorite story. The best stories leave the reader wanting more. If there is a story that you love and wish that “they” would make a sequel, try imagining that sequel yourself. Of course you cannot write an actual sequel to a novel unless you have express written permission from the original author, but you can create an original sequel-like plotline and insert your own characters into this scenario.