Generating Story Ideas and Overcoming Writer's Block

Today's topics are generating story ideas and overcoming writer's block.

Mignon Fogarty
6-minute read
Episode #56

I knew I wanted to write for a trade publication called The Scientist, so when I heard about a fire in a lab nearby, my mind was ready. I realized that The Scientist might be interested in a story about how to prepare a lab for an emergency if the story included a news hook about the fire. And, indeed, the publication snapped up the article.

In truth, stories are everywhere if your mind is prepared to look for them.

Generating Fiction Story Ideas

Now, on to fiction. For fiction stories, you need inspiration. And actually, getting inspiration for fiction writing isn't so different from searching for non-fiction story ideas.

It's still a good idea to read a lot and interact with others. Fictional stories need characters, and you can get great inspiration from people you know or people you briefly encounter. When I was in college, I used to sit at coffee shops and people watch. I'd pick people who seemed interesting and make up stories about their lives.

I think that watching the public Twitter feed can give you ideas for a story. You can just watch until you see an intriguing post that inspires you, or you can challenge yourself by picking five random tweets and forcing yourself to make a coherent story out of them. (And actually, if I were still a freelance magazine writer, I would also watch Twitter for non-fiction story ideas. It would be a great place to pick up on new trends.)

Another fun approach is to co-opt a minor character from another work to use as your starting point. The most famous example is probably the book Wicked, whose main character is the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, but there are many examples. For instance, Grendel is a book about the monster in Beowulf, and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is a play, which was turned into a movie, about minor characters in Shakespeare's Hamlet. And, of course, fan fiction imagines new adventures for minor characters.

Keeping a journal can be helpful. Flashes of inspiration can come at any time. It can help to have a journal where you can write down ideas as they come and where you can keep track of your general reflections and your dreams just as you are waking up.

Next: Overcoming Writer's Block


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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