Three Powerful Ways to Brainstorm New Story Ideas
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Brainstorming new story ideas isn't always the easiest task in the world. Often, it seems the longer you work to devise the concept for your next great novel, the more impossible the struggle becomes. So, how can you overcome the overwhelm and begin generating narratives like the ultra-imaginative writer you long to be?
Today, I'm sharing three powerful brainstorming methods that make the process of digging up new story ideas seem less like a headache and more like the romp through your creative playground it ought to be. So let's go, writers. It's time to play!
Brainstorming new story ideas isn't always easy...
Some writers struggle to choose which of their many stories they’ll write next, and that’s certainly a valid struggle. In fact, we’ll tackle this topic in depth in next week’s article here on the blog. When you’re in the thick of struggling to generate a single story idea, however, it's easy to look upon these writers with envy.
But writer, the Comparison Game isn't worth your time. There are several reasons your creative well may be running dry, and I promise you none of them are a reflection of your skill or worth as a writer.
You see, creative writing is a multi-faceted craft. Writers must balance plot with character development, theme, world-building, and prose, among other elements, and it’s unreasonable for any writer to expect they will naturally exceed at every one. Some writers simply gravitate toward plot over characters or prose over story — and that’s okay!
There is no right way to be a writer, and you aren’t any less of a writer if you have to work diligently to excel at any particular element of the craft. If generating story ideas is a consistent struggle for you, I'd bet that you excel in other areas of the craft that would make more imaginatively-minded writers jealous.
That said, it's also important to remember that our writing lives have seasons. In some cases, the struggle to generate new story ideas may simply mean that you’re experiencing a dry spell or a creative winter. Use this time to rest up and relax, refilling your creative well by reading widely, dabbling in other hobbies, nurturing your relationships, and getting out in the world.
With time and patience, this season in your writing life will pass and you'll find yourself once more inspired to write a new abundance of stories.
Let’s generate new story ideas!
If your personal brainstorming methods don’t appear to be getting the job done, have no fear. Generating new story ideas doesn’t have to be a desperate grappling for any old scrap of inspiration. Discover purpose and power in your brainstorming sessions by exploring the three methods outlined below…
Method #1: Steal Like an Artist.
Popularized by Austin Kleon, the concept of stealing like an artist acknowledges that there are no truly original stories left to tell and instead celebrates the power of influence.
By intentionally allowing ourselves to be influenced by stories and other forms of art, we learn to shape and transform those influences into unique new works. So, how do we steal like an artist to brainstorm new story ideas? Simple!
Set aside a block of time to create a list of artistic influences. Think about the stories you’ve most enjoyed and what it was about those stories that captivated your attention. Was it a certain character or theme? A plot twist or magic system? A breath-taking setting?
Create as comprehensive a list as you can, then play around with the elements you've written down. Try pairing the items that most excite you or combining some of the wackiest items on your list, then challenge yourself to create new stories that include them!
Method #2: The Question Game.
At the heart of storytelling is the question “what if?”.
- What if space were ruled by a corrupt empire?
- What if a wealthy aristocrat fell for a woman who loathed him?
- What if a third-world African country were secretly the wealthiest nation on earth?
Brainstorming your very own “what if?” questions can be a powerful way to generate concepts for new stories. Begin by creating a fresh list and unleashing your curiosity. With your own experiences and interests in mind, how many “what if?” questions can you generate?
Once you’ve developed an extensive list, choose or combine the idea(s) that most excite your interest, then challenge yourself to write new a story based on each question.
Method #3: The Emotional Rollercoaster.
Readers must invest in your story emotionally if they are to care about the journey at hand. And if it’s emotion that hooks readers into your story, it’s no wonder that playing with emotions can be a powerful way to generate ideas for your next novel.
Jump on the emotional rollercoaster by creating a list of the situations that get your emotions churning. When developing your list, consider what causes you to feel joy, grief, sadness, anger, regret, hope, fear, peace, and so on.
With your list complete, you can begin to combine the situations that most pique your interest to spark ideas for your next story.
For example, if you’re afraid of spiders and getting lost in the wild, you could write a dystopian story about a world overrun by giant spiders and the girl who must fight them in the wilderness as she journeys to reunite with her family or find a life-saving medicine. Fun, right?!
It’s important to keep in mind that the purpose of brainstorming story ideas is to develop a concept for your story, not a core plot. You’re looking for the seed of inspiration that captures your attention wholeheartedly. Once you’ve found that seed, you can then begin to develop a premise, asking yourself these core questions as you expand your concept:
- Who is the protagonist?
- What is their goal?
- How do they plan to achieve their goal?
- What disaster will throw your protagonist off balance?
- Who or what will oppose them?
- What is the core conflict?
If you’d like additional guidance as you work to expand your new story idea into a full-fledged novel, you may enjoy working through Well-Storied's most popular workbook, The Pre-Write Project!