You’ve always wanted to write a story—but you have no idea what to write about. Sound familiar? It’s a surprisingly common problem for writers. Not everyone wakes up with a brilliant idea already percolating inside their head. Not knowing what to write about doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write, though, and there’s a lot you can do to kickstart your imagination into high gear. Check out our suggestions below, and you’ll be filled with ideas for stories to write in no time.

How to Plot Ideas and Get Inspiration

There’s no shortage of ways to come up with ideas for writing stories. All you have to do is pick somewhere to start, tap into your creativity, let the ideas flow—no matter how out there they seem at first!—and then build on what you have from there.

How to Be Creative

Creativity is something you have in spades. Yes, you. But sometimes you have to do a little work to unlock it. Here are a few of our favorite ways to work on being creative:

  1. Start with a writing prompt. Writing prompts are a great way to jump-start your imagination. You can Google “writing prompts” and find a plethora of places to go for free prompts. Just pick one, don’t worry about whether or not it’s the “best” story for you, and start writing. You might be surprised by where it takes you.
  2. People watch. Go out in public and sit on a bench. Watch the people walking by. Invent stories for them. Did they have a tragic childhood? Are they on their way to meet up with a long-lost love? The sky’s the limit when it comes to your character—and you.
  3. Do something other than write. It may sound counterintuitive, but you don’t always have to write to tap into your creativity. If you find yourself stuck when you sit down to write—put the pen (or laptop) away. Instead, draw something. Paint something. Go to a museum. Listen to a favorite song. There are lots of ways to get your creativity unstuck other than sitting in front of a blank page, trying to squeeze words out of it.
  4. Take a class. Check out courses like Skillshare’s Creative Writing Bootcamp: Start a Brand New Story. In this fun, energetic class, taught by a best-selling author, you’ll perform writing exercises that will turn you into a lean, mean story-generating machine in no time.

Where to Get Plot Ideas for Stories

Once you’ve tapped into your creativity, it’s time to move on to what you want your story to be about.

Different writers have different parts of the story come to them first. Some writers are character-driven, meaning they come up with a character, or two, or five, and then have to figure out what to do with them. 

Other writers are plot-driven, meaning they come up with a scenario—say, five kids are alone in detention and then one of them dies, making the other four suspects (One of Us is Lying, by Karen McManus)—and then fill in characters based on that plot.

Which one are you? The only way to know is to start brainstorming and see what comes to you first. If plot isn’t the thing that comes first to mind, that’s okay! Write down what does come to you, then go from there. 

So where to start with that brainstorming? Start with a scrap.

Think of something that interests you. Any little thing, be it a song lyric, a pretty pattern on a dress, or that tiny house in the woods you just liked on Instagram. Then build on it from there. What kind of character would wear that kind of dress? Who might be living in that tiny house in the woods? What could happen to them there, in that remote location?

Then, if you need more help building on it, add another scrap, of something else that interests you. Say you are also intrigued by sibling dynamics. What would happen if two siblings were forced to live in this tiny house? What happened to them to get them there? What’s the dynamic between them like?

All you need is that first scrap, and you’ll be surprised at how much you can build from there.

How to Use Your Imagination

So by now, you’ve tapped into your creativity and maybe have a scrap or two of the story down. What’s next?

You have to fill in the rest of it!

Stuck again? Not a problem.

One really great exercise when it comes to coming up with the central idea of a story is the “what if” question. All it takes is using your imagination. 

Some examples of “what if” questions:

  • What if a group of kids in small-town Maine had to fight off an ancient evil that took the form of a clown? (Stephen King’s It)
  • What if a group of monsters attacked a blonde in a dark alley—and instead of becoming the victim, the blonde kicked their butts? (TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
  • What if the son of the president of the United States fell in love with the prince of England? (Casey McQuiston’s Red White and Royal Blue)

The possibilities are endless. Jot down a couple of questions, just based on the things around you or based on what interests you. Your imagination is endless, and you will come across something that sticks.

How to Come Up With Ideas for Stories to Write

But how do you know that what you’ve come up with are good ideas for stories to write? You’ve got to make sure your idea has some heart.

Think about your favorite stories of all time, be they books, movies, TV shows, comic books—anything you’ve ever truly loved—and ask yourself:

  • What did I love about this?
  • Why did I love it so much?
  • What’s the one thing I wish I could do this well?

Note: We’re not telling you to plagiarize. Far from it! But there’s nothing wrong with taking an element from a story you love and reimagining it, twisting it around until it’s something only you could come up with. Give your story that heart it needs to be the kind of story that will resonate with people the way your favorite stories resonate with you.

How to Come Up Ideas for Stories for Kids

Are your story-writing inclinations leading you toward writing stories for kids?

Writing for kids is both incredibly rewarding—and incredibly challenging. 

The main difference between writing for children and writing for adults is the amount of responsibility that comes with the former. You’re writing for—and therefore talking to—impressionable young minds. The ideas you present, and how you present them, will be taken in differently by kids. So you need to ensure you’re not promoting any harmful messages in your story.

In terms of how to come up with ideas for children’s stories, that works the same way you come up with any other story: start with your creativity, decide whether you’re a plot-driven writer or character-driven writer, use your imagination to fill in the gaps—and voilà, the bones of your story are here.

How to Come Up With Ideas for Fiction Stories 

Have you heard the phrase, “Truth is stranger than fiction?”

A lot of ideas for stories can spring from real-life events and people. That’s not to say you should simply take a news story, change the names, and publish it as fiction. But there’s nothing wrong with taking a snippet from a real-life event and incorporating it into your story, building on it from there.

You can even think back on events and people from your own life and see if there’s anything there you can start as a basis for your story. Autobiographical Fiction: Write a Short Story from Personal Experience is a great class to get you started with this idea.

Another idea: Eavesdrop. (Not in a creepy way.) Just go sit in a coffee shop, or in any setting where there are people talking to each other, and listen to what they’re saying. Not only is this a great way to learn how to write realistic dialogue, the topics of strangers’ conversations can spark even more ideas in your writer brain. Bonus: Listening to the people around you can also help you write realistic characters. 

Ready to Start Writing?

Writing stories comes with many challenges, and it can be hard to think it’s something you want to do when you don’t even know where to start. But rest assured the spark can come from anywhere—and once you’ve got that spark, it’s what you do with it that counts!

Discover Your Story

Writing Fiction: 4 Exercises to Discover and Write Your Story

Written by:

MK Pagano