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5 Tips for Getting Story Ideas

Story ideas can be hard to come by for some people, but for me they always seem to just burst from within.  As a journalist for years, I was constantly on the look out for non-fiction story ideas to turn into news stories. Years ago at a writing seminar, I heard best selling author Robert Crais say he was constantly being asked where he came up with his ideas.  His response, "I don't know where they come from. I just get them."

That can be so true on so many levels, and when you're a writer sometimes you do just see them without knowing why.  But what if you need to come up with an idea for your next story or book. That's usually when the well goes dry and those ideas don't just pop up.  So where can you get story ideas if they are a problem for you?

1. Look around you.  Yes, sometimes it can be as easy as listening to your wife or husbands's comments about their bad day. Maybe they accidentally got cut off in traffic or cut off someone in traffic and come home in a bad mood as a result. Aha! Story idea -- what that person they cut off or who they cut off and drove by and cursed has followed them home.  Think of what might happen next. Or what if that person keeps following them.  Yes, instant thriller or mystery.

2. Don't forget your family.  I always love to tell the story of how I came up with the idea for one of Home Fires Burning, one of my early romance novels. I based it on my mother's very romantic tale of how she knew she would marry my father the first time she saw him.  She was a young teenager, and he was a cowboy coming to work at her uncle's ranch, but he saw her as nothing but a pesky kid. Still she put herself in his way and kept at it over the years until he eventually saw her as a romantic interest. Recently I was working on re-writing a short story set in the same area and my sister showed me a picture she had taken of my brother walking the same area. Suddenly I had a new idea for a new short story.

3.  Look at the news.  This has always been a staple for me.  As a news person I was always finding weird stories that caught my interest and me to thinking "what if?"  A news story about a woman who finds her family after 50 years?  Think of all the possibilities.  An older woman who reconnects with a teenage boyfriend in a nursing home by accident? Again, the story might make for a heartwarming story in a hometown newspaper, but it can also be the basis for a fiction tale. I used to keep a file of the quirkiest stories I ran across. They always seem to provide great possibilities.

4. Listen to people where ever you are.  One of the things Robert Crais also said at that writing convention was that writers are notorious eavesdroppers and he is right.  I find myself picking up on conversations whenever I am out and just sitting somewhere by myself, whether it's a bar or a coffee shop.  I can hear a conversation between two people and start thinking about what might be the basis for their discussion or argument, and voila! Instant story idea.

5. Brainstorm whenever you have a chance.  I've been sitting with my friends at times when we're just talking and mention to them I need a story idea.  Suddenly someone has a tiny spark and then so does someone else, and at least one or two others are willing to step in and add new wrinkles and pretty soon the story ideas start flying.  (tip -- on this last one, providing alcohol for those friends can often be a real help)

These are just some of the ways you can come up with story ideas.  I always also say, don't turn your back on them just because they seem weak at the time. Sometimes you can put a couple together to come up with a story. The final tip is to write them down or keep those stories in a file. That way next time you are stuck you can dig out that file and get an idea to start writing!


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