I don’t think I’ve ever met a writer who had the exact right amount of ideas. Every single one I know either has so many ideas they don’t know what to do with them, or they struggle to find enough ideas that excite them enough to write about. If you’re one of the former, we’ve got a post coming soon on how to choose between your ideas, but if you’re of the latter type, here are a few suggestions to help you find the seed of your next story.
1 Do short writing exercises. We like the ones on Writers Online, which are designed to fit neatly into a coffee break, but there are plenty of lists of prompts around for different genres and tastes. Get into the habit of doing these quick exercises regularly, and see if any of them spark ideas that could turn into larger pieces. Don’t force it – not every drabble can become a novel – just keep an eye on which ones leave you wishing that you could keep writing at the end.
2 Visit a museum. Or visit several museums. Fill your brain up with history, science and obscure facts. It’s a good idea to take a notebook or use your phone camera to keep a record of anything that particularly grabs you, but don’t be too determined to come up with an idea right away. Enjoy your visit and take some time to absorb everything you’ve seen. Let your hind-brain work on it while you get on with something else – you might find that it combines ideas to make something new and unique.
3 Use a trope you love. Tropes are common motifs or ideas that crop up over and over in storytelling. Take a look around the TV Tropes website to get some ideas. Tropes can be really fun to play with because they give you an established framework which you can then explore, twist or subvert. Choose a trope you enjoy reading and try to do something with it that you’ve never seen before.
4 Mash up the books on your shelves. Take a few minutes and do this exercise. Go to your bookshelf, close your eyes, and take down two books at random. Take a look at what you’ve chosen, and make a few quick notes on how you could combine them to make something new. For example, if you took down Jane Eyre and The Hunger Games, you could put a young Jane into a dystopian world and see how she survived, or you could transplant Katniss Everdeen into Victorian society, or you could combine the two settings somehow. Repeat the process a few times and see if anything interesting comes up.
5 Do a bit of people-watching. As long as you’re not creepy about it, people-watching can be a great way to get ideas for characters. Head to your nearest train station, shopping centre or park and watch the world go by. As people pass, think up back stories for them – what are their names? Where are they going? What’s the one thing that’s most important to them? What’s one thing about them that nobody would ever expect?
Let us know in the comments how you come up with new story ideas!