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How to Find Story Ideas: Tips for Writers

finding story ideas

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As a writer, it can be tough to come up with story ideas. Sometimes, it seems like everything has been done before. If you’re feeling stuck, don’t worry! There are plenty of ways to find good story ideas.

In this post, we will discuss some tips for finding inspiration and getting your creative juices flowing.

Write what you know

It’s a cliche, I know, but it’s true. Stories that stem from real first-hand knowledge always resonate more than the projections of writers caricaturing a situation they haven’t experienced firsthand or fully understand.

Your personal experiences, the observations you make in everyday life, and your unique worldview are all fertile ground for story ideas.

What about fantasy, sci-fi, and otherworldly situations?

I can hear you saying right now, so what about George Lucas, James Cameron, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the countless other storytellers who have written about places or situations that simply do not exist?

It’s true that they haven’t lived those otherworldly experiences, but their characters all have emotions that are entirely based on our shared reality, and you could exchange those fictional settings for any number of real-world locations without compromising the emotional core of those stories.

Emotional experiences are what drive us as human beings, and if we can connect with those emotions in our writing, then we have found the key to good storytelling, regardless of the genre.

Case in Point

When Steven Speilberg wrote Close Encounters of the Third Kind he was a young man in his twenties. At that time he didn’t have children even though his main character Roy, played by Richard Dreyfuss, was the father of multiple children.

At the end of the film [SPOILER ALERT], Roy abandons his family without hesitation when he boards the alien spaceship.

Now, there’s no question that Roy and other characters in the film were being called by the aliens, and clearly, they were no longer themselves in many ways thus one could argue that it wasn’t really his decision – but that’s a little beside the point because Speilberg himself has spoken on the subject.

“…it was about a man whose insatiable curiosity and a developing obsession and a kind of psychic implantation drew him away from his family and with only looking back once, walked onto the mother ship. Now, that was before I had kids. That was 1977. So I wrote that blithely. Today, I would never have the guy leaving his family and going on the mother ship.”

– Steven Spielberg (source)

Obviously, the film was and remains to be a tremendous work of art and this detail is probably inconsequential for most viewers, in fact, Dreyfuss himself has said he disagrees with Spielberg on this point. But the point stands that the writer/director himself considers this to be something that he would have changed given more life experience.

Do your research

Upon first glance, research doesn’t seem like a likely source of inspiration for story ideas, but actually, the more that you learn about a subject, the more ideas you will find.

Research goes hand in hand with “write what you know“; no matter what you’re writing about, it’s important to do your research. In some cases, the research will come naturally by simply living and doing the thing you are writing about: parenting, being a doctor, being a crime scene investigator, etc.

But in other cases, the research will be more difficult, and you’ll have to seek out experts or at least read books on the subject matter.

Not only will this help ensure that your facts are accurate and that you are credible, but it will also give you a better understanding of the subject matter. This deeper understanding will allow you to write about it in a more interesting and engaging way.

If a writer hasn’t lived a situation firsthand or done the proper research, oftentimes their story will suffer from reliance on the cliches. We’ve all seen movies and TV shows where characters speak or act in an unrealistic manner; the characters exist solely to advance the story/plot, and they feel unrealistic and hollow. Adequate research will help you to avoid this trap.

Brainstorm with someone

This could be a colleague, friend, or even a family member. The important thing is to get someone else’s perspective on your story idea.

Oftentimes, when we are too close to something, we can’t see the forest for the trees, so it’s helpful to have someone else weigh in.

Plus, it’s always more fun to brainstorm with someone than to do it alone.

Take a walk

This is one of my personal favorite things to do when I’m feeling stuck.

There’s something about getting out of the house and moving your body that jumpstarts the creative process.

It doesn’t have to be a long

Talk to people

If you want to write a good story, you need to get out there and talk to people. You never know when you’ll stumble upon a great idea. Just strike up a conversation with someone and see where it takes you.

Be open to new experiences

You never know when inspiration will strike, so it’s important to keep an open mind. Try new things and go places you’ve never been before. You never know what will spark a great story idea.

Pay attention to the news

The news is a great source of story ideas. After all, it’s full of real-life drama, conflict, and emotion. Just be careful not to get too caught up in the negativity.

Keep a journal

This is a great way to capture all those little ideas that pop into your head throughout the day.

I like to carry a small notebook with me everywhere I go so I can jot down any story ideas that come to mind.

You can also use your journal to brainstorm, work out plot problems, and flesh out characters.

The bottom line is this: there is no shortage of story ideas out there; you just have to be open to finding them.

Next up, we’ll take a look at high-concept stories vs low-concept stories!

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