Writing Fiction, step one: The idea

Writing Fiction, step one: The idea

By Kirsty Logan 04/07/11

Have you got an itch to write fiction – but are still stuck on page one? Writer and recent Short Story Competition winner Kirsty Logan is here to help. She shares her tips for generating ideas...

Most writers, when asked where they get their ideas, say something glib like “from the idea shop”.

They’re not saying this to be difficult – well, maybe some of them are – but because getting ideas is both the simplest and most mysterious part of the creative process.

Most stories start from a tiny seed, like an unusual phrase or a snippet of history, which takes root in the writer’s imagination and grows into a full story. It’s vital that you keep a notebook of all these little things, because it’s so easy to forget them. Carry the notebook with you everywhere and keep it beside the bed – those moments when you’re half-awake but still dreaming are rich for ideas.

There are stories everywhere: overheard conversations, newspaper headlines, unusual eBay auctions, strangers on the bus – everywhere! This is why there’s no need to get precious about ideas. If one isn’t working, put it aside and move on. You will have more ideas, and perhaps one of these new ideas combined with the old one is the key to making it work.

If you’re feeling stuck, try playing games with words or stories, combining them in unusual ways and letting your imagination roam. It’s okay if the ideas seem stupid or derivative at first – often your brain just needs to clear out the cobwebs and clichés to make space for the unique ideas to breathe.

As an example of some games and techniques you can try, here are my top five ways of generating story ideas:

  1. The Dictionary Game – select five words from the dictionary (or use a random word generator) and then write a one-paragraph story idea that uses all five words. If you have friends who write, play this with them – it’s always fun to compare ideas afterwards, especially if you get words like “polyp”, “yeti” and “underwear”, which are very hard to fit together!
  2. Take an existing story, such as a fairytale or myth, and change the time or place – for example, Red Riding Hood in a housing estate or Odysseus in virtual reality. Use the existing structure of a story and combine it with your own ideas and voice to create something fresh.
  3. Explore outdated theories on science, religion, or society – check out anchorites, maternal impression and the hour of the wolf as a start, because there are great potential stories there.
  4. Let your mind wander when you’re listening to music – misheard song lyrics can provide unusual word combinations or unexpected contrasts of images.
  5. Look through these Google Street View photos – some are funny, some are creepy and some are just weird, but each one is a story waiting to be told.

The most important thing is to pay attention to the world and all the things that you hear and read. There are ideas everywhere – all you have to do is recognise them. And if you have a favourite way to get story ideas, feel free to share them with other IdeasTap members in the comments.


Useful Links

Seventh Sanctum’s Story Generator

Wikipedia’s Random Button

Thievery: my series of blog posts about story inspirations. 


Read more How to articles.


Image: idea by theonewhoistall, available under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

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