Friday Fun – Where do you get your story ideas?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: We recently invited you to submit your questions about writing, and Bethie asked about where we get ideas for our writing. 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: Everywhere. That’s probably not very helpful. But, it’s true. I love asking “Why?” and “What if?” I like to daydream. I guess you could say that I’m incurably curious, and my curiosity creates an endless stream of ideas for essays and stories. I mean, from where I’m sitting at my desk, I quickly looked up and the first thing I saw was a Hawaiian scarf with a batik-style fish print on it. Looking at that, the following thoughts ran through my head:

  • I wonder what goes into making one of those. Is it even made in Hawaii, or just labeled there? What are the industrial and financial stories behind that simple scarf?
  • I wonder who sold it – maybe the owner of a family-run shop struggling to survive against the competition of the big-label stores in the newer, fancier malls. What kind of conflict is there between the different store owners or family members?
  • Is that a traditional Hawaiian motif? What kinds of Hawaiian myths might have inspired that design? What if Hawaiian gods met the old Greek or Norse gods? How would they get along?
  • The fish are grouped in schools of five. Why would there be only five fish per school?
    • What if that was an actual natural phenomenon – how would the fish determine which of them went into which school, and what would happen to the odd fish out? Would there be in-fighting, manipulation, or even fish murder for spots in a school?
    • How might this thing play out with humans – like cliques in school? What if in the future people were only allowed to interact in groups of five – how would that affect relationships, privacy, emotions?

You get the idea. Be curious. Ask questions. Let your mind free associate. Don’t judge your ideas. (The above list proves I’m clearly following an “anything goes” approach.) Just have fun.

And, here are a couple other posts that you might find helpful:

Your Writer's Mind

Your Writer’s Mind

or maybe …

4 Steps to Capture the Muse

4 Steps to Capture the Muse







Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin: While I was waiting my turn to drive through a construction site where the state was rerouting a highway, I wondered what Vermont was like before the Interstate, how it was built, and how the state changed as a result. And so began the research that turned into Elegy for a Girl, Into the Wilderness, and the untitled novel I’m working on now. Ideas for my VPR commentaries, editorials, and blog posts arise in similarly mundane and mysterious ways: I see something, I hear something, I read something – often something quirky or ordinary – and it sparks thoughts that make their way onto the page. It’s a good job.

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: Some of my story ideas seem to come out of the blue. I’ll be driving and a thought will become a sentence which then becomes the idea for a story. Because I write a lot of non-fiction, many of my ideas also come from asking questions. If I want to know an answer, chances are someone else will want to know it as well. The toddler’s “what if” and “why” questions that are constantly asked (to the point of exhaustion) never seemed to have left me. Lastly, my ideas can come from a quiet place of observation. I’ll sit and look at what is around me. I’ve seen this with my blog, where I’ve been writing about my flock of children and chickens for the last 6 years. You’d think I’d have run out of things to say at this point – nope, there are days when I feel like I’m just getting started.

Susan Nye: I bump into ideas everywhere. In the news. In random conversations with friends, family and strangers. In the supermarket and farmers’ market. (I do a lot of food writing so ingredients inspire me.) In books, magazines and in the nooks and crannies of my wandering mind. I walk almost every day and find it really helps. No music, no phone and no distractions, I let my mind ramble and amble in search of inspiration.

Coming up with something new week after week for my newspaper column/blog is probably the biggest challenge. Next week makes 448 stories and recipes plus another couple hundred menus and party ideas. When in doubt I check the calendar. Holidays are always good for a post. Who doesn’t have something to say about Mom on Mother’s Day, family cookouts on the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving dinners? That said, after nine years it can be tough to find a new approach to Memorial Day.

26 thoughts on “Friday Fun – Where do you get your story ideas?

  1. Like Jamie Wallace said that from everywhere. Generally I am getting my ideas from my surroundings. Like in my previous article I write about a common girl. When I saw a girl standing alone on a bus stop at midnight waiting for a taxi. So I started to imagine myself at that position, yes it was creepy to image myself as a girl,but then I start to think if I was a girl and all alone in my life no family and no friends. And started to write about it.

  2. I use a lot of the methods you describe here. When I get really stuck, I’ll steal an idea by “re-imagining” an old story, perhaps one from the bible or a folk tale, or a bad movie from the 70’s…

    • Fairytales are an excellent source of old material that you can make new again. Movies do this ALL the time, and often with great success. Great tip! 🙂

  3. What I used to do; Often I keep a notebook, or journal. Through the use of these tools, I may have a thought about a certain matter. Then I would write it down, think about the matter. Then I may start developing some ideas which I let play in the back of my mind. When it’s reasonable, according to my understanding, I might do some reading up about the matter. Afterwards I start working on the theme, eventually ending as an article, poem or blog post.
    Ian R Lottering
    dd 2015 May 01

  4. Ideas come from all areas of life. A news clip, an overheard conversation, a picture, daydreams or prompts from various sources. One of my current WIP is the merging of 3 real news items.

    • Hi, Mandy!
      YES – sometimes reality is stranger than fiction (and, can inspire it!).


  5. My stories normally form while I’m trying to sleep. I rocket out of bed and grab the pencil and notebook I leave sitting there and scribble away in the dark, hoping that by morning’s light, I’ll still be able to read what I wrote and that it’ll make sense. Sometimes it doesn’t, but most of the time, I’m fortunate.

    But my poetry and essays… those are different. Those are inspired by everything and without a conscious thought, also form in my head, beating at the door, until I find a way to release them. If I don’t, they swirl, blocking anything else from coming in or any other thoughts from forming. For me, to write is to live. To not, is to die.

    • Ah yes – the midnight epiphany. 😉 I think we’ve all had those. I used to keep a notebook by my bedside, but now I’m more apt to pick up my phone and either type out a note or record a voice memo. No matter which tools we use, the goal is always the same – capture that idea before it evaporates!

    • Most of my best ideas for stories at bedtime, just as I was trying to go to sleep, I never used a notepad as my hand writing is too unreadable most times
      Fortunatly for me I am to re-live the story later on when awake just by remebering the based idea, and then the story unfolds as I write

  6. I agree about being curious wholeheartedly! What if we asked questions of the people we passed? What if we took the time to get to know their stories? I think such a thought can go right along with what you are saying. If we pay more attention to the things going on around us and the people we pass, maybe, the world would be a better place….Do you agree or disagree?

    • I absolutely agree – paying attention, being curious, and asking questions are activities we should all engage in more thoughtfully and frequently. The world would definitely be a better place because this approach to living emphasizes caring, empathy, and can’t help but breed understanding and tolerance.

      Thanks for sharing!

  7. Ideas I get from people and life itself. The thing is in my mind it always turn into tragedy. A perfectly happy family gatherings can turn into a nightmare in my head. A romantic rendezvous becomes horror in my imagination. Yesterday I saw our neighbours from next door having a barbecue party. I saw lots of kids playing around chasing each other. My brain said: It could be nice if one of those lovely children ended up in a barbecue pit. Things like that. But not always. Sometimes I touch an object and get flashes of its history, or someone says something and I know the unspoken truth behind the person’s words.

  8. I am inspired by life events, by what is going in my life and others around me. Since I write about my faith and what moves me to honor God, I like to encourage others in what I write. With my commitment to writing consistently, I know this will expand. And, God is not boring so this post encourages me to also write about the fun things in life. I do let ideas settle a little before sharing because you never know how a different perspective will change the element of what is written.

  9. I really don’t know where my creative ideas to write about come from but I do know when they come.Every night while lying in my bed getting ready to drift off into dream land (and man do I dream!),I get in a certain mode,a feeling of ease and comfort and without any effort at all on my part thoughts just start to happen,sometimes so fast I jump out of bed and get my journal to start scribbling down notes as fast as I can and they always help!Because of this I have decided to purchase a voice recorder so I can easily record and remember my thoughts each and every night.That is where I get my stories from.

      • Thank you jen-if I may call you that-you certainly may ask.My creative thoughts usually come to me around 1:00am when I start to drift off to sleep and they come so fast that I jump out of bed and get my journal to scribble down as fast as I can.I have recently started using a voice recorder to make this process much easier.What I do write about usually comes in two different areas-humor or heart felt stories that I have experienced myself,so heart felt that I actually become angry and feel the need to communicate immediately.I have actually done this at 2:00am lying on my bed using my wifi keyboard and mouse and start typing away then post what I have written.Early the next morning I check my blog site to see if there has been any response-if not I’m sad but am still motivated to go on blogging.Some day jen,the perfect blog will come to me and I will know that!Nice talking to you!

      • You may call me Jen. 🙂 What a great way to get blog posts… I usually have to think about my blog posts for a while in order to come up with something to write about.

        I, normally, write adventure fantasy novels. I love this genre.

      • Hi Jen-it is 12:07 eastern time when I write this.When I first started to write my method was the same as yours-think about it for a while and then get going but after a while I would eat up half an hour to write one sentence.So upon reading what other authors and bloggers were doing I decided to wait until the spirit moved me to be creative-that is what I am doing now!.I guess you could say-that’s it Jen,it just came to me and I knew something would.From now on when we talk like this please call me the midnite writer,that would please me.Now that I am on a roll,my next blog that I would love to have you read and comment on will be published today.It is a true story of an experience I had during a fourteen and one half hour surgery in October of 2001.It was something like an out-of-body-experience that I have wanted to share and the time is now!Thank You for the inspiration I feel now-it’s like you gave it to me.I will mention you in this story-not by name but with a message only you could recognize.I feel good-good nite jen.

  10. my ideas usually come from an image or picture I see in my head. I write it down in as much detail as possible and store it away. Usually that picture is a scene in a novel, I just don’t know where it goes until I am writing and then Bam! The picture I saw fits exactly there. It’s crazy how often this happens for me.

  11. I get my ideas in dreams… I write adventure fantasy, so usually my dreams are about creatures, but not always.
    For example: Rekasha’s Folly came to me in a dream. It was like she was telling me her life story and I couldn’t stop having the dream until I started writing it. Then, the dream continued along as I was writing the rough draft. When I finished the rough draft, I can’t believe I remember this, I heard her say, “Now, you do something great with it.”
    For Warrior Crone, I found myself sitting by a fire talking with the best friend of the MC. She was telling talking about their adventures together. In her lap was a very old fashioned book, tied together with leather strips. She would read a passage or two from it and then talk about her experience with the same it. I couldn’t stop having the dream until I wrote it.
    Hooked on Junkies was a bit different. I kept dreaming the same thoughts over and over. “What would happen if a vampire was addicted to people who use drugs?” “Can a vampire die from an overdose of junkies?” “Would they go through the same mental changes a junkie does?”
    I hope this helps someone out there deal with their strange and awkward dreams. Sometimes, it’s a story waiting to be written…

  12. I think it was Stephen King who said he gets his stories when two ideas collide. Each one might be decent – but not necessarily worth pursuing – but once two come together, that’s when you’ve got your story. I feel like my own process is similar: I’m constantly writing down random ideas that pop into my head during my train ride or when I’m watching TV, but I never really pursue them in the moment. But when I find a connection between a couple of them, that’s when I get intrigued enough to follow the thought. Most commonly, this occurs between one idea that’s a general theme and one idea that’s a more specific scenario.

  13. I find looking at photos (Pinterest) or videos (YouTube) can help, although care needs to be taken that too much time gets wasted as those site can be distracting
    Flicking through local papers untill some article headline catches the eye
    Over heared conversations (accidently of course) can stir the imagination
    Listening to radio shows or old taped ones (( may jog brain cells into action
    Eating cheese late at night ( L.O.L ) could prompt Lucid dreaming

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