10 Exercises for Coming Up with Story Ideas
Updated: Oct 25, 2020
Some people are idea machines; ideas just come unbidden all the time. If you are not one of those people--it's okay, writers come in all kinds, and this could change over time. For now, you just might need some exercises to get the ideas flowing.
Here are ten exercises for coming up with story ideas.
(They tend to be most effective when you're working within a time frame and not trying to come up with the "best idea." Try setting yourself a timer for 5, 10, or 15 minutes when you give them a go.)
1. Come up with as many “what ifs” as you can. Write them quickly and don’t worry about them being any good. They should look something like this:
What if...the sun didn’t come up one morning?
What if...someone had to deny their child their dream job?
What if...someone became addicted to buying new houses?
2. Find a photo of someone you don’t know. Start to write about them and their life (as you imagine it).
Alternatively, you can try writing from this imagined person's perspective starting with a prompt such as one of the following:
“I’ll never forget…”
“At night, I…”
“I just keep thinking…”
3. Find a photo of a place. Write about something that happened there.
4. Go to a news site and scroll through the headlines. Choose one that catches your attention. Without reading the article, write about what happened from the perspective of one of the participants.
5. Free-write on a random word.
6. Listen to a song with lyrics and write out the story you think it’s trying to tell. Start to fill in the gaps with more details from your imagination.
Alternatively, listen to an instrumental song and write out the images that come to mind.
7. Think of a minor character from a story you know. What’s their story? Free-write about it, make a list of ideas, or write the story from its start (understanding that this is just an exercise to build off of later).
8. Search through your memory for someone in or around your life who was particularly interesting in some way. Stick that person in a hypothetical situation that you think might be particularly challenging for them. Write out a quick story or free-write about some of the things that might happen.
9. Come up with as many book, movie, or series titles as you can in 5 or 10 minutes. They can be silly or serious. Do it quickly.
Afterward, write out a sentence on what each of your titles could be about.
10. Look out the window and watch for someone walking by. Select someone and start to write about where they’re coming from or where they’re going. Keep writing.
These are exercises you can come back to again and again for fresh story ideas. Once you have an idea that resonates with you, you may want to move on to exercises for seeing where (if anywhere) your story idea wants to go.
Some of those exercises will be coming soon...