Ways to Come Up With Great Story Ideas

Writing is a very demanding chore, especially if you are writing fiction. But usually, the stages before and after the actual writing are harder—it’s difficult to edit a story and equally difficult to come up with a story idea.

Writers are usually full of ideas but figuring out a concrete one, one that can actually work as a starting point for an incredible story is the hard part.

You sit down for hours, days, weeks, even months, and you still don’t know where to begin. It can be a frustrating thing.

For some, coming up with story or novel ideas is natural—not all of the time, but still, they often find it easy to concoct a good story idea.

However, for the rest of us, it’s always a mountain to climb. It takes all of our focus, skill, and a sprinkle of patience. We have to summon all of our inner Yoda and creativity—then and only then can we come up and develop a compelling story idea.

If you’re ‘us,’ here are some tips on how you can come up with some compelling ideas for fiction writing.

ways to come up with great story ideas

Creating a Good Story Idea

I cannot objectively define a good story idea because stories have diverging elements that make them unique and these elements make them good stories but with an antithetical appeal.

Most contemporary works of fiction share similar narrative arcs and you could judge them by how good the writer is. However, some stories have nothing in common but are all good. In the latter, the story ideas should be judged independently.

your ideas matter
Consider where you want your story to go and write it down since it will most likely lead somewhere.

In the first case where stories kind of shake the same premise, we would judge them to the writing styles, audience, and intended message of the story.

So, there’s no objective definition of a good story idea. But, there are things that good ideas have in common.  All good story ideas can define who the main character (MC) is, what the MC wants, and what stands in the main character’s way.

This is a concrete story that is ready for development. It’s easy to patch in the rest of the story outline, or if you’re a pantser, it gives you the starter pack for your story.

Ways to Get Story Ideas

There are a lot of ways to summon creativity and come up with a story that is a potential best-seller

Here are some of these ways:

1. Tap from real life

Do you know a super sleuth called Sherlock Holmes? Obviously, you do.

Do you know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—the author who came up with this character—created Sherlock based on a real-life person?

sherlock holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was inspired by Dr Joseph Bell, one of Conan Doyle’s medical school instructors.

The fact that he is one of the greatest fictional characters of all time is no secret and that can bear witness to the power of using real-life events, people, or elements.

So, this isn’t limited to characters; you can also have a whole community modeled after a real-life town or village. You don’t have to limit these adaptations to your personal experiences, you can also use experiences of people that aren’t from your circle.

2. Reinvent Folktale

Across cultures, people are told lots of fairy tales or folk legends. Being the genius that you are, you can adapt these fairy tales and come up with great story ideas.

And, these folktales are passed from generation to generation and rarely get outdated regardless of their age. This, for me, is a good indication that the story contains great elements/themes that contemporary audiences would love.

3. Use Writing Prompts

writing prompt
A writing prompt is a topic around which you can generate ideas for writing. (Image credit: “Writing prompt” by Julie Jordan Scott on Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Using writing prompts is convenient when you have no idea of how or where to begin.

A writing prompt doesn’t give you the whole story, it just gives a string that is meant to spark the creativity in you. If you still feel uninspired after reading a prompt that seems worth developing, you can write down a couple of random sentences about the topic.

When you come back to the random sentences, you’ll be able to pick some common elements among the sentences. You can either choose one or combine different ingredients from the sentences and continue your story idea.

4. Use Historical Events or Current Affairs

Historical events are another great source of inspiration for great stories ideas—and it’s a no-brainer when the stories you want to write are in the historical fiction category.

You can get a lot of story ideas by reading historical texts or watching documentaries and news programs or newspapers are good sources of current affairs.

To make the story interesting, think about the key changes in a historical event that would be exciting or worth reading. This writing technique forms the foundation of what is known as alternate history fiction or speculative fiction.

5. Go All Out Gonzo

Every writer writes in the ‘conventional’ lane, but conventional or normal starts to get boring at times.

Some audiences want something outré or eccentric to get their skin hairs standing, something that kicks open Pandora’s Box.

At least once in your writing career, you have to develop a book idea that seems a bit bizarre. The best thing about publishing in the 21st century is that you don’t have to worry about a publisher rejecting your manuscript because it’s too off-the-wall or freakish—you can simply just self-publish.

Some of the best writers of the 20th century—like Vonnegut—were lucky to get these kinds of stories published by risk-tolerant publishers and their stories went on to enjoy success.

6. Use Wordplay

If you’re feeling uninspired, you can use wordplay to draw out the creativity stuck within you. You can just play around with alliterations, puns, and onomatopoeias to throw together a unique and interesting story.

If you’re not good at creating alliterations or puns, you could scour the internet and find something that sparks you into writing a story. For me, alliterations like “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” make impulses run wild in the nerves of my head.

7. Reinvent Your Favorite Novel or Short Story

Try analyzing a plot from one of your favorite books and consider what it’d be like if certain key elements were changed in that novel.

Obviously, among the elements that need changing are characters and world-building—while they can be close to the characters, they have to have some unique elements in their names and arcs.

You have to allow the story to take wild turns that will completely make it a very different one from the original. The key advantage you have with this type of approach is you already have a successful starting point and it helps you to stay inspired—and, as a bonus, you give your favorite story a new lease of life.

8. Break down The Elements of Fiction

Sometimes, your inability to create a compelling story idea might be a result of you overwhelming yourself by wanting to come up with everything at the same time. It’s quite easy to get confused with all the details in the six elements of fiction in one place.

Try breaking down the elements of fiction, and try building the story bit by bit.

elements of fiction
  • You can start with the Plot and write down what happens in your story.
  • Worldbuilding. Most of the time, I like building the environment before I come up with all the characters because I feel like the characters have to fit the context/the world they are in.
  • Then you come with your Characters.
  • Another element of fiction is the Point of View (POV). You have to choose who tells the story, from whose eyes things are going to be viewed.
  • Theme. The story has to be given some sort of meaning, it has to have a unifying element that presents some message.
  • Style: Every writer has their own style, but you can also choose to have divergences in the way you tell different stories.

6 Tips for Starting the Novel Writing Process

Novel writing is a complex and demanding loop, but things are easier when you have everything prearranged before you start writing your draft.

Here are some tips to ensure that you have a less knotty novel-writing process:

Come up with a world you’d want to spend a lot of time in

You won’t write your novel in a week or two, you can fantasize all you want but this is almost impossible. You’ll be required to be in front of your computer screen or looking down on your notebook for weeks, months, and even years writing the same story. So, you have to write about a world you can live in for all those months. Come up with a setting and a period that fascinates or—in the extreme case— spellbinds you.

More importantly, your readers will also have to live in that world for a specific period and it has to be a world they feel comfortable coming back to, again and again.

Author Kate Messner shares a few techniques for creating a world worth exploring in your own words.

Come up with a story idea that can constantly nourish your interest

In the same spirit of keeping you engaged, you have to come up with a story that remains compelling throughout your writing process. Remember, writing a novel isn’t a two-week leisurely task, so you have to come with a story that can sustain your enthusiasm throughout the whole novel.

This is easier said than done, but the best way of going about this is to look at the story from a reader’s point of view. Would you be interested in reading several hundred pages of this story if you were a reader? Your answer is highly indicative of the amount of interest you would have throughout the writing process.

Let the characters reveal themselves to you

After coming up with the story and doing some worldbuilding, you have to come with people or entities in your story. You first have to come with your main character (MC) and let the rest of the characters introduce themselves depending on their relation to your MC or their roles in scenes. Obviously, the MC is the most important among your characters, and every other character is in the story because of their relationship with the MC (whether bad or good, direct or indirect).  So, the MC has to have a rich and detailed life (i.e., comprehensive backstory, traits, goals. Etc.).

Have your ending in mind

The thing about writing a novel is that anything can change at any time. However, having a clear ending in mind helps you develop a story that drives toward that ending.

Even if you don’t know what the story will be like in the beginning or middle of your novel, define a clear ending so that you know where the story will take you ultimately.

Give the story a structure

Having figured out the ending for your story, you have to break your narrative into acts. Most of the stories follow a three-act structure, whose acts are designed to end with a moment that is pivotal to the overall plot.

three act structure
Three-act structure. (Image credit: UfofVincent on Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Don’t over Stress the Planning process

Yes, planning is a very important aspect of novel writing, but you don’t have to overdo it and waste a lot of time that you could have spent writing your novel. Most experienced writers know that their first draft is going to suck, but they also know that stressing about that is a waste of time. That’s why you have the editing and proofreading stages, to sieve the impurities of the first drafts. But, you don’t have to waste a lot of time on planning, just dive in before you get cold feet.

Top 10 Story Ideas

  1. A teenage girl discovers that her mother died 5 years before her birthdate.
  2. A family’s summer vacation is interrupted by an unnatural disaster and the father has to find his family lost in the disaster.
  3. A robot meets a young girl who appears to be living the robot’s memories.
  4. A young time traveler goes back to his past and finds his soulmate, but this lover turns out to be his auntie.
  5. A group of researchers finds a body in a huge block of ice that has just fallen from a glacier.
  6. A young couple books a place in a hotel whose only other occupant is a murderous psychopath.
  7. A principal of a boarding school discovers a group of vampires (daywalkers) slowly turning the school into a vampire camp.
  8. A 60-year-old woman who is deeply in love with a mysterious middle-aged man is crushed when her lover tells her that he’s an interstellar hitman sent to kill key world leaders.
  9. An unpopular artist overcomes his fear of flying to go on a world tour with a famous band.
  10. A reverend father unwillingly kills two violent intruders and discovers he likes the taste of killing.

Writing Prompts

Basically, a writing prompt is a topic that can be used to summon your creativity and make you start writing. It can be anything—from a word, sentence, paragraph, to an image.

Why Do We Use Writing Prompts?

Writers aren’t always internally stimulated to write. Writing prompts act as a jumpstart when you are failing to write due to writer’s block or a mere lack of ideas.

Writing prompts also help the writer discover new writing skills and topics.

How to use writing prompts

You can use them any way you like, the main thing is to get the best out of the writing prompt.

You always have to reimagine the writing prompt to make it suit your skillset and knowledge. However, you can also use the prompt to get out of your comfort and write something you’ve never tried before.

Summary

I always say that the hardest parts of writing a novel are the pre-writing and post-writing stages. Most of the time, your story in the first draft is as good as its pre-writing concept.

Of course, it is your story, but you don’t have to carry the burden of finding the best writing ideas alone. Try to collaborate and find prompts from wherever they can be found.

Writing prompts are a great way of sparking your creativity and imagination and when coupled with a rock-solid writing ethic, you can develop a compelling story.

About Jessica Majewski

Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories.

She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.