Written by A Guest Author September 7th, 2023

Where to Find the Right Story Idea for You

By Emily-Jane Hills Orford

The blank screen on your laptop is just as painful to look at as a piece of blank paper sitting on a typewriter. The lack of writing ideas has put you in a slump, as it has done for many other writers throughout writing history.

What you need is an idea jar – quite literally. I remember my mother making a job jar for my father, so he always knew what jobs needed doing. It worked: the jobs were taken care of, though the job jar was always full. Find a jar and a notepad, or a stack of post-it notes and start jotting down words that could potentially be great ideas for a story. Stick them in the jar or on an idea board and every time you face this slump again, this writer’s block, pull out an idea.

Okay, so, seriously, this trick only works if you can come up with some story ideas to begin with. What are story ideas? Simply put, story ideas are the reason why writers write. German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche is often quoted for his one liner, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” I think these profound words could be said about any creative venture. Certainly, without story ideas, there would be no stories. Without these story ideas, there wouldn’t be a need for a vocabulary to write these ideas. Imagine not needing words – where would that leave us?

So, we agree that writers need to have these story ideas, but where are they? Simply put: all around you. Life is the greatest of story ideas. Just living your life will help you find your story ideas. All you need to do is listen, absorb, and observe. Read the news, read magazines and books, watch television and movies, listen to conversations around you and pay attention to conversations that you are involved in, listen to music of all genres and let the words and the sounds inspire you. The list goes on. Sometimes the best ideas just pop into a writer’s head, or in a dream or a nightmare. I remember my father sharing stories each morning about the bizarre dreams he had the previous night. He was a lively communicator and storyteller, and his dreams came alive as he wove them into an oral story.

Since stories reflect you, write what you know. How many times have you heard that catch phrase? Well, it’s true, to a point. You can’t write about something you know nothing about, unless you do some intense research and make sure you learn the topic inside out. Writing what you know, however, is always a good place to start. If you’re a hobbyist, or a gardener, or a biker, or a hiker, you have a passion for certain topics and you know what you’re talking about. So, write about your hobby, your garden, your latest biking or hiking adventure. Write about you!

Do you like to read? Silly question, I know. All writers like to read. If they don’t, they shouldn’t be writers. But reading cannot only give you ideas, they can teach you new things to include in your writing, like witchcraft and magic, for those who haven’t written about either before. And you can write about the books you read, or even write book reviews. Book reviewing is another good place to start with your writing.

Take a look at other writers and how they find their ideas. Kathy Reich is a best-selling author of murder mysteries based on her experience working as a forensic anthropologist. Her ideas evolve from cases she’s solved or is working on solving. You would think a lawyer like John Grisham would get most of his ideas from cases he’s worked on. Certainly, his experience as a lawyer helps him navigate the fine art of investigation and standing up in court. But a lot of his ideas come from newspaper articles. Regarding his novel The Guardians, for instance, he acknowledged Austin-based investigative reporter, Pamela Colloff, whose work he came across, and whose research has unraveled some startling truths about the judicial system.

Not all authors stick to familiar topics. Some authors like to bite the bullet and explore the unknown, the controversial and the troubling news that plagues are communities. Jodi Picoult is one of the most controversial fiction writers today. And, yet her work is stellar, popular and challenges the simplest of minds to ask the most troubling questions facing society today. She writes about stem cell research, mercy killing, the death penalty, the right to die and many other ‘big’ questions. She challenges readers to think and find their own answers to what plagues the human race of the twenty-first century. She claims to enjoy writing about the unanswerable questions.

There are also writers who allow the story to pull them along, one page at a time, with no initial idea to set the plot in motion. David Rosenfelt is one of these authors. His dogs infiltrate the plots and add a touch of compassion and humor, but his stories evolve along with the writing process. The dogs are not the theme, but rather the lead into the plot.

So, what style works for you? Try different processes and experiment. And, basically, be observant at all times. Story ideas surround you. Here are some prompts to help you generate some fantastic ideas for future stories and articles:


  • Always have a notebook (paper or electronic) handy and jot down ideas as you think of them.
  • Make it a daily routine to read and listen to the news – multiple times during the day. Take notes on key news items, or anything that might spark your interest. Even a small news item can develop into a big idea in a story.
  • Take a daily walk through the neighborhood and observe what’s happening around you. A neighbor taking out the trash can develop into a serial killer getting rid of the evidence. The deer munching on a neighbor’s vegetable patch can develop into a garden story on how to protect your gardens from wildlife invasion.
  • Get together with family or friends and listen to the conversation around you. Listen to conversations around you at work. It’s amazing what ideas will evolve from one simple statement, like “you don’t think she’d get rid of him, do you?” It might evolve into a complex murder mystery.

Or write like the Rosenfelt authors of this world and see where it’ll lead you. The ideas are out there and within you. All you need to do is write.

Emily-Jane Hills Orford is a country writer, living just outside the tiny community of North Gower, Ontario, near the nation’s capital. With degrees in art history, music and Canadian studies, the retired music teacher enjoys the quiet nature of her country home and the inspiration of working at her antique Jane Austen-style spinet desk, feeling quite complete as she writes and stares out the large picture window at the birds and the forest. She writes in several genres, including creative nonfiction, memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction. http://emilyjanebooks.ca


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