4 Tips to Finding Story Ideas

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Two days ago, my son strolled into my office laughing. “You gotta see this.” He handed me the Red Cross flier above. They call him at least once a day. Now they are sending mail and they aren’t even subtle. They think they are asking for donations. We think they are hinting at a darker purpose. “Blood donors are disappearing.” Story idea!

I know writers who find it difficult to come up with ideas. Not only does my son lend a hand, I come up with a lot myself - 207 so far this year. Some are for plots. Others cover character. Titles trip across the page.

Are you like me or do you struggle to find ideas? Here are four tips that may help.

1. Keep your eyes and ears open for “what if” situations. The other day our own Angela M. commented about clown colleges. She wondered if they were still a thing what with circuses closing down. My mental gears started turning. What if clown colleges weren’t willing to go quietly into the night? What ifs can involve the juxtaposition of characters, putting a familiar character type into an unfamiliar setting, or wacky inventions. Did you know they proposed a mercury fountain for the 1904 World’s Fair? What else could you do?

2. Vacation! This summer the extended family took a trip to the Smoky Mountains. While other people shopped (apparently some people think that’s fun), three of us visited museums, scenic overlooks and more. My husband quickly discovered that if I was the one carrying the camera, I could snap photos of plaques detailing little known facts. Did you know a Cherokee regiment fought in the Civil War? Me either. When you travel, let the scenery, people and history fuel your stories.

3. Mining Media. I am constantly “fixing” stories, books that didn’t end the right way and movies in which the protag is suddenly acting out of character. While I’m not about to borrow someone’s plot, I can write a piece in which a similar character saves the day while remaining in type. I also look for interesting background characters. Were there really women at Dunkirk?

4. Misreading. For those of you who don’t know, I’m dyslexic which means I’m tops at misreading things. The other day I got a recipe newsletter with the headline, “How to Turns Bears into Dinner.” Okay, I quickly realized it said beans but my mind was already spinning a story about a bear who thinks he’s been invited to be the main course, not the guest. Use your mis-readings to spin a story.

Story ideas are everywhere. They may not all be gold but when you get used to jotting them down, you’ll have a list the next time you need something quirky to make a chapter more interesting.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, something popped back into my head from yoga this morning. This time, I need to write it down.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins September 10th, 2018.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--Blood donors disappearing? Bears being the intended entree? A mercury fountain? (Really?)

You are a magnet for intriguing story ideas. And already 207 story ideas just this year? This is one of the many reasons why you're such a prolific writer.

Thanks for this post. I'll try to keep my ears and eyes a bit more open...

Angela Mackintosh said...

Sue! This is a magical post. You have a knack for coming up with fascinating story ideas, and you make life interesting! I literally laughed out loud (and almost spit up my coffee) at the bear thing. :oD

I love that you fix stories. You'd make a great developmental editor. And 207 story ideas is amazing! How do you keep track of them? Do you carry a notebook or use your phone?

Thanks for the inspiring post! You've given me some ideas. :)

Margo Dill said...

I was just about to comment on the 207 story ideas but I see Angela and Sioux already did. I have a lot of ideas all the time. What I need is to be better organized! I often can’t find my ideas.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Remember my bulleted journal? In addition to a list of movies I've seen this year (36), there are books I've read (92) and story ideas. When I travel, my journal just barely fits in my purse. I also e-mail ideas back to myself.

Fortunately, everyone in my family has a thing for quirky facts so we are used to someone paushing a movie (what was that guys name? let's see if he really lived) and collecting facts. You know that joke about your brain being like a browser with 97 tabs open. Yep. That's me.

And I found a new story idea after I posted this. Something based on Missouri history, the KKK and the mob. At that point, who do you root for?


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