Stories help connect your audience with your brand in amazing ways. While you can draw stories from your customer experiences and competition, you would need some creativity to work things out at some point. And you would need to come up with story ideas that will send the right message to your audience.
Writers are often taught how to write their stories, but not how to develop a great story idea. Luckily, the best fiction prompts are already in your head. Let’s answer a common question for writers stuck on the blank page: What should I do if I want to write but have no story ideas?
In this blog post, you will discover incredibly simple and tested ways to gain and build story ideas for your brand and business. Furthermore, you will understand the importance of coming up with these ideas that can change your business.
What Forms a Great Story Idea?
There’s no strict definition of a “good story idea.” In fact, many wonderful stories are excellent because of the way they’re written. You might have heard someone say that every idea has already been written, and while this approach to creative writing is a bit cynical, it’s true that it can reduce many stories to similar narrative arcs.
Thus, there’s no clear anatomy of a good story idea. As a general rule, however, your idea for a story should answer the following questions:
- Who is your main character?
- What does your main character want?
- What prevents the main character from getting what they want?
The rest is up for you to decide. With this in mind, let’s consider different starting points for how to come up with story ideas.
7 Ways to Come Up With Great Story Ideas
When you ask yourself “What should I write about?”, starting with one of these methods will go a long way to help you develop a great story idea.
Modify a Story Idea That Already Exists
No, you can’t publish your version of The Great Gatsby where every character and detail is the same, except it’s set in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. However, you can start a story from the literature that already exists.
In fact, many great works of literature started, to use a modern term, fanfiction. Shakespeare’s Othello was inspired by a poem called “The Moorish Captain”—he even used the same names and borrowed themes of love and vengeance. Alexandre Dumas wrote The Three Musketeers as fanfiction to a memoir of a French musketeer titled Mémoires de Monsieur D’Artagnan. Finally, William Golding was inspired to write Lord of the Flies after reading the children’s book The Coral Island, a story about three marooned boys from England.
If you’re afraid to call a story “fanfiction,” think of it as a way of improving a story you already love. Make it your own, change your characters, and develop new story ideas. You might just write the next classic!
Leverage Creative Writing Prompt
Chances are, you’ve been told to use writing prompts, but not how to use writing prompts. The best way to write from a prompt is to free-write from the story idea, then edit from there.
For example, let’s say you’re given this prompt: Write a story about a community cyclist. If you choose to use this prompt, but don’t know where to begin, do a timed free write where you “free associate” all of your ideas onto the page. Write for five minutes about what the word “cyclist” makes you think of. Give another five minutes to “community.”
Then, comb through your free writing and let your journaling inspire some story ideas. Perhaps you wrote down something about a crystal ball in a psychiatrist’s office, or you imagined a circus tent filled with prescriptions. Let your great story ideas unfold naturally, then write from there.
If you’d like some writing prompts to get you started, here are 24 exercises we think you’ll love.
Utilize Different Elements of Fiction
The blank page can be overwhelming. As you consider the infinite possibilities of language, it’s easy to get so lost in the details that you lose sight of a simple idea.
If you’re the type of writer who gets overwhelmed by the entire process, try coming up with story ideas through a piecemeal approach, by considering the six elements of fiction:
- Plot: the “what happens” of your story
- Characters: whose lives are we watching?
- Setting: the world that the story is set in
- Point of View: from whose eyes do we see the story unfold?
- Theme: the “deeper meaning” of the story, or what the story represents
- Style: how you use words to tell the story
- You can read in-depth about each of these in our article on the six elements of fiction.
For example, you might benefit by just starting with a character. Think about different character details, from their physical traits to the things they most desire. From there, you can think about what’s impeding this character’s success, and craft the plot and world around them.
Or you can start with the setting. Create the world you want to write in, whether that world is realistic, magical, or somewhere off Earth entirely. Then, think about the limitations of this world and how it both helps and hurts its people; from there, you can craft your characters and plot.
You might even start with style. If you want your story to use certain language, style can act as a scaffolding to the story. For example, Toni Morrison wrote her novel Jazz because she wanted to write a story that spontaneously rises and falls in energy and emotion, much like jazz music does. The result is a story that traverses a slice of the early-20th-century African-American experience through Black culture and music, using style to guide and write the story itself.
Draw Inspiration From WordPlay
Sometimes, words themselves inspire. Drawing creativity from puns, alliterations, and onomatopoeias can create unique and interesting stories.
Take our last prompt, for example. Both words in the phrase “psychic psychiatrist” start with “psych,” yet they have vastly different meanings. Psychiatrists are academics, whereas psychics are mystics. What story can you find in the duality of science versus magic? Are they more similar than we realize? Find moments of tension or ambiguity in language, and go from there.
Use a Story You’re Interested In
Toni Morrison said it best: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
Think about a story you’ve always wanted to read. This doesn’t have to be a story that’s revolutionary and wholly unique; start with what you want to read in fiction. For example, maybe you like reading stories that bend genres, and you want a story that combines mystery, romance, historical fiction, and science fiction, but you have read nothing like it.
The reason you haven’t read it is that you haven’t written it! Take some time to think about a story you want in the world — whether that’s a story you needed when you were younger, a story that other people need to hear, or a story you’ve always wanted to be told. That might be what you should write about.
Boredom is a Powerful Experience
Boredom is not a popular feeling. It is, however, something we should embrace as creatives because we are more creative when we are bored.
To function properly, our brains need some stimulation. Bored is our brain’s way of telling us it’s under-stimulated. Whenever we’re bored, we often use our phones, books, televisions, significant others to pass the time.
In the absence of external stimuli, however, our brains come up with their own stories and ideas to keep us stimulated and entertained. We might even establish a great story idea if we let our minds wander in a boredom-free environment without being distracted by outside stimuli.
Use Real Life Scenarios
Last but not least, we recommend starting with real-life experiences. Stories often include fantasy and sci-fi settings since they are grounded in reality. There are a variety of ways to use your personal experiences to write poignant fiction, so you don’t need to write about them in their entirety.
A notoriously haunted hotel gave Stephen King nightmares after he stayed in The Shining. That hotel and those nightmares inspired the hotel of The Shining, which is arguably a character within the novel itself.
News and events can also be pulled from popular sources. Having read about Charles Lindbergh’s kidnapping and murder, Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express.
The last option is to draw from historical events and to write historical fiction. It manifests itself in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, which examines the rise and fall of Biafra, an African nation that existed in the late 1960s.
As Mark Twain once said, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” Start with real life and see where your story idea goes.
The best writing ideas are developed through collaboration and feedback. A significant part of your writing routine would be to always take feedback. However, you understand you don’t need to apply every feedback because you’re the one with the greatest fluidity of creativity.
Ensure you always seek to use all the right experiences and above ways to draw exceptional story ideas for your promotions and a lot.