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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Where Did you Get THAT Idea? Five Ways to Romance Your Muse

A friend recently asked me where writers get their story ideas from. Tricky question, that. It's one of those that should be easy to answer, but turns out being more complicated than you'd think.

Where do writers get their ideas, anyway? 

That's the easy part. I get probably most of my ideas from reading or watching and wondering, "well, but what if...?" The rest of it just comes from exploring my imagination as if it were a world described in the books I like to read... which goes back to largely what I've been reading in the first place.

The seeds of our stories are all around us. Inspiration can really hit us from any direction at any time.  It's our choice as to when, where, and even how we cultivate these ideas and make them our own. But how does it work? Can we do it on demand? Here are five ways I cultivate my own sources:

Bore the Reader

Boring is a lot more awesome than people give it credit for being. Why? Because it's where we start. It's where we pick up our readers before we take them on the pulse pounding thrill ride we haven't quite written yet. 

Try this: describe a completely flat and boring situation. Now fold in a detail or two that makes it less boring. Keep introducing elements one by one until you no longer feel like poking your eye out with a sharp pencil. Continue until you have enough interesting details to launch your story, which by now is unique and awesome instead of boring.

The Path not Taken

Have you ever been excited by a story you read or watched in the movies, but disappointed by the way part (or all) of the story was handled? If you can picture the story that should have been told, there's no reason you can't tell that story yourself, in your own world and with your own characters. 

Old Story Clich├ęs

When pressed for an idea I like to take a story theme that is already overdone and write something from it that feels fresh, new, or even original. It isn't always easy, but if you're suffering from writer's block it's easier than staring blankly and writing nothing. You just strip the idea down to its bare elements, turn it on its ear, and add other elements as needed until you've got a story of your own. A good way to approach this is mixing two or more overdone ideas that don't seem compatible with each other. Make them work together in a believable story and you'll likely have a decent story idea.

The Story Never Written

This one is my personal favorite. Imagine the story you want to see on the shelves but can't find anywhere. Be the one to write it. If you don't have one of those in your head already, close your eyes and start exploring up there.

Be the Director

Another favorite of mine, especially if I need results fast. Forget for a moment that your story isn't even written yet. Pretend it's already a movie. Imagine that first (or next) scene unfolding on the big screen and simply describe what you're seeing as it happens. If the movie gets stuck, be the director and adjust things until the story begins to flow again. This is also a great technique for describing a scene if you can't figure out how to frame it up for a narrative.

Now it's your turn! If my friend were to ask you where you get your story ideas, what would you tell her? (comment below)


  1. I get great ideas from just watching people. The entire world tends to talk too much. It's amazing what you can pick up if you just listen. I find that the muse latches on to me best when I'm going on walks or in the shower. Then, I can mull over an idea for days before jotting it on paper. It usually means that I can come up with awesome first chapters.

  2. These are some great suggestions, Wolfe! I get my story ideas from everywhere: from real life, from pictures in magazines, from snippets of dialogue on television shows and in movies, from dreams. So many ideas, so little time! Hope to see you back on Follow Friday again today!

  3. Good points. We get material from conversations and snippets and just about anywhere else an idea can germinate. I think a lot of these little ideas are molded by the overall story we're already working on, but some of them do suggest new stories of their own!

    Thanks for the feedback!

  4. Hello Wolfe, I found your blog on Follow Fridays and was lured by your style.

    I draw inspiration for stories from all of those examples, but also from the simplest of happenings throughout my day. It could be the way the sun shines through the trees in the parking lot outside my house, or the speed at which wind may blow during a storm. They all raise that 'what if' question about a scenario for a story.~Julius