I doubt any writer enjoys answering the question, “Where do all your ideas come from?” Because the answer for most of us is very boring, unhelpful, and hard to understand:
“Nowhere. They just pop in my head.”
It’s the truth, though, or at least it’s the truth for me. Story ideas just sort of spring to mind more or less fully formed, aching to break out of my skull like Athena sprouting fully grown from Zeus’s noggin. The problem, though, stems from deciding which story to write, and how exactly to focus that frantically hopping plot bunny.
If you’re having trouble whittling down your teeming pile of story ideas to The One You Should Work On, I have some tips to share…
Finding Story Ideas
Writer’s block, to me, isn’t, “I can’t think of anything to say,” so much as, “I have SO MUCH to say, but I can’t think of how to say it.” So, if you’re blocked for a story idea, consider the following:
A wrong you want to right.
This can either be in society as a whole, or something more personal to you. Maybe you think the healthcare system is broken, and you want to write a story about a character with a chronic illness buried in debts that highlights the system’s failings. Or you think people are too addicted to television, so you want to write a story about how an evil villain uses a television program to hypnotize viewers into gibbering, slobbering zombies. Maybe you want people to understand why LGBTQA representation is so important, so you want to write a story with LGBTQA characters at its center.
Maybe you’re sick of stories where the female character is stripped of all agency and plopped into the story as a trophy for the male protagonist to earn. Maybe you’re sick of stories where POC are either nonexistent or relegated to minor bit roles. Maybe you’re sick of reading crime fiction that egregiously misrepresents the investigative process! Whatever the case, if there’s a problem, an injustice, a misrepresentation, a wrong in the world that you really, really want someone to get right, consider framing a story around exposing and trying to solve that problem!
A situation you want to shine a light on.
Maybe there’s a lie in society you want to expose, or a truth about the human condition you wish to tell. Maybe you want people to understand the plight of a homeless teen, or a kid in foster care. Upton Sinclair wanted to expose conditions in meatpacking plants in The Jungle; The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, was written in response to police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. Brilliant fiction has stemmed from the need to expose an issue that the author feels is underrepresented.
A story you wish you could read.
Often, when I read a unsatisfying book or watch a movie that just misses the mark, my brain spools into overdrive as I imagine all the different ways I would’ve told the story. (I about had a coronary while watching Passengers, I swear. Basically, this video expresses all my thoughts about that.)
If you wish there were more horror stories out there where the protagonists make smart decisions; if you wish there was more fantasy out there with LGBTQA characters; if you wish there were more zombies in your space station science fiction (YES PLEASE) — if there’s a story you’re aching to READ, that you wish EXISTED out there in the world, consider doing yourself a favor and being the one to tell it!
Or, again whatever story is niggling at your noggin.
Lots of stories appear suddenly, swimming around in your gray matter, not out of any particular agenda or vendetta your writerly soul aches to serve, but just because … they’re there. Swimming around. Begging you to write them.
What’s my advice for choosing which story to write? Don’t worry about marketability, or timing, or, “I can’t write this yet, I don’t have the time/the research/the right headspace.” The right time to write a story is NOW and the right story to write is ANY YOU CARE ABOUT. If you’re excited about writing it, write it, however it might’ve fallen into your head.
That’s all it from me this week. Happy Writing. : )