I find inspiration for stories and characters everywhere I look.
For me, coming up with ideas is the easy part. I know this isn’t the case for everyone.
So, I thought I would do a series of posts with ways to come up with fictional story ideas.
The three methods I would like to discuss today are: random word association, book titles or first lines, and draw of a hat.
1) Random Word Association
This method is what it sounds like. You take randomly picked words and try to link them together to create a story.
For example, looking around my desk, I see the word ghosts on an XBOX 360 game, the word zoo on a computer game case, and the word evil on a book.
What kind of story could you come up with that incorporates ghosts, zoo, and evil? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.
My first thought was an evil witch imprisons ghosts in what she calls a spirit zoo.
2) Book Titles or First Lines
A lot of times I look at a book title and think the book will be about something totally different from what it is actually about.
This leads to ideas for new stories. Even if you know what the book is about, you can come up with an alternative meaning behind the title.
This also happens to me when I’m starting a new book. The first line of a book often gets my mind going in different directions.
See what you can think of from these titles, putting aside what you might already know about the real book:
Shadows on the Lake
The Monkey’s Raincoat
The Hunt for Red October
Where the Wild Things Are
Next, see what you can do with this first line:
“The guard had only a millisecond warning before the intruder slit his throat with one swift, silent slash” (Beverly Barton, on her ground. 2002).
What do you think this book is about?
Of course, when it comes time to write your book that spawned from this first line, you will have to come up with your own first line. The point isn’t to copy, but to draw inspiration from other things.
3) Draw of a Hat
This is one of my favorite ways to come up with ideas. It doesn’t have to be a real hat. I have heard of people making a wheel that you spin to get the theme. However you want to do it is fine.
How I like to do it is by making separate lists on different pieces of paper.
One paper would be headed “Protagonist.” On that paper I would list kinds of characters, usually by occupation, that I think would make good protagonists.
On the next piece of paper, I would head it “Type of Problem,” then list many things that could happen to the protagonist from getting targeted by a serial killer to falling in love with a werewolf–whatever interests you.
The next piece of paper would be “Antagonist,” on which I would list all the possible people or things that could interfere with or cause the protagonist’s goal or problem. This could range from a jealous ex-girlfriend to a volcano to the serial killer.
Once all my lists are made, then I do random sampling from each list. The easiest way to do this is just to pick a random number at least double the number of items on your list. Then count down the list again and again until you get to the number you picked. What you land on is what you have to use. Do this again on the other lists.
If I ended up with “archaeologist” for protagonist, “sucked into black hole” as my problem, and “double-op spy” as my antagonist, what kind of story could I make?
Warning, sometimes you can’t make them fit no matter how hard you try. If that happens, toss out one of the words, and go back to your list for a new one.
I hope these methods give you some inspiration and get those story gears working if they have stalled. Make sure to follow Books That Hook by e-mail or Bloglovin’ as to not miss part two.