How to Think of Story Ideas

{By Ellery Sadler}

story ideas

So … you want to write, but where do you start? With an idea.

How do you come up with ideas?

Now that is a whole different question.

My ideas generally come up out of the blue, and I write them as soon as I get one. And then when I’m done my mind goes blank for about three or four months and I wonder if I will ever write again. I’m not one of those people blessed with a mind that can think of hundreds of great ideas for stories. My ideas come at random and while that makes them fun and mysterious, it is also unpredictable.

So what are some ways for you to brainstorm and come up with ideas?

1. Old pictures – I love browsing antique stores, attics (if they are well lit and not too scary) or any place I can find for interesting old photographs. My favorites are pictures of people, but pictures of interesting houses or place are also great for sparking your imagination. I saw a picture of two little gypsy children dancing in a musty old barn-turned-antique-store once, and I’ve always wanted to write about them …

2. Family History – Do some research and find your roots. Who where your great great grandparents? Where was your family during the Civil War or did any of them go out and explore the west? There are so many stories waiting to be told. Your ancestors may have been outlaws, pirates, preachers, scalped by Indians, captured by the British, left the family without even a goodbye … the possibilities are endless. And the coolest thing is, these stories are actually true.

3. Music – Music is one of the most powerful means of communication. Listen and see what you come up with. Lots of songs tell a story, expound on that, use it to launch your ideas.

4. Obituaries – These are a couple paragraphs summarizing different people’s lives, where better to find great ideas? These are stories just waiting for someone to write them.

5. Ordinary Conversations – What if? Just talking with your friends or siblings often leads to interesting story ideas. What if a crooked, high-power lawyer had to tell the truth for a day? What if there was a mirror that showed people’s hearts instead of their faces? What if a girl became the sheriff of an old western town? What if Romeo hated Juliette but his family loved her? What if the criminal on the cross in the Bible was really the illegitimate son of Pontius Pilate?

6. The Unusual and Beautiful – Take a look around you and see what is strange, abnormal, unusual, beautiful: the tattooed girl dressed to the nines and toting a Prada purse, the old man working in Wal-Mart who fought in Vietnam, the little boy with Downs Syndrome who smiles at you like you are his best friend, the old woman who plays the piano at church and was a beauty pageant queen when she was younger, the blind man who’s wife left him to raise three kids … there are wonderful, beautiful, broken people all around you. Just take the time to look, and you’ll see more stories than you could ever write.

Writing is powerful. The truth is powerful. So write about the truth. Write about things that make you passionate, that spark your interest and keep it, things that you know you could not live without telling.

One story I wrote I thought of just on a walk. Another idea came to me standing in the kitchen talking with my sisters about a song. One story I thought of after reading about some of my family during the early 1900’s. Another one I thought of when I wondered what Judas Iscariot was really like … was he a nice person? Did he have friends? A girlfriend?

Those are some of the ways I like to brainstorm and think of ideas. There are so many stories waiting to be told.

Just pick up a pen and write …