“Where Do Story Ideas Come From?” Seems to be a question many aspiring writers have. I’ve heard it asked dozens of times at writing workshops or “author nights”, and I see it pop up almost daily on one forum or another where writers are hanging out online.
I think the main reason this gets asked so often is because there’s just no single concrete answer to the question. There’s as many ways to find a story idea as there are ways to tell that story once you do.
For me, there’s never been a problem with finding story ideas. My problem is ignoring them while I’m trying to focus on whatever work-in-progress I have going at the time. I don’t actually ignore them, I jot them down for future considerations; my point is story sparks are constantly igniting in my mind.
I believe this is because I’ve spent so long now trying to look for the “strange potential” of things. That’s all writer’s really do.
To illustrate the point, think of a nylon stocking. A romance writer looks at it and sees a tool of seduction. The thriller writer sees the mask of a bank robber or kidnapper. The murder-mystery writer sees a makeshift garrote to choke a victim with. A sci-fi or horror writer may see it as the delivery system for maliciously programmed nanites.
It’s all about viewing things with the desire to see their strange potential.
By no means is this a special skill or something only some are born with. It’s just a matter of training yourself to constantly be playing a mental game of twenty-questions, even with the most mundane of objects and situations.
From that point, it’s craft to turn the idea into a story. People like to over complicate this process as well. There’s tons of tomes on every aspect of writing. I think most of it is noise.
For every “rule” or “must do” I’ve ever seen in one of those books, or heard from another writer, I could instantly point out numerous examples of successful authors and stories that broke them or didn’t do them.
Like stories, every writer is different and needs to find their own path. For me, it finally became fun and manageable when I decided I only needed a system of 3 C’s to write a story that others found entertaining.
- Conflict – without this there’s no point
- Consequences – escalating are preferred
- Convergence – everything must start somewhere, move forward, connect and end together
Everything else is good to know, but not worth a damn if it’s getting in the way of actually writing stories.