How to come up with story ideas

Check out this Craigslist ad: (Download PDF of story idea tipsheet)

Do you have a pressing need to come up with new ideas in whatever field you may be in, whether it be business, creative, marketing, or anything….
Tell me your problem and I will brainstorm up ideas for it….
I will expect $20 per hour of my time coming up with ideas for you, but as I am starting out, payment will only be required upon your satisfaction. Only serious responses please.

The good news is, you can keep your money. You don’t have to hire a professional brainstormer to come up with story ideas. You can do it yourself. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Keep up with the news. Sign up for Google news alerts to get the latest information about your topics of interest. Relentless curiosity never hurts.
  • Have a brainstorming session with friends, colleagues or classmates. These can be quick and informal, general or tightly focused.
  • Some writers suggest freewriting. It’s similar to brainstorming. You elaborate on your ideas on paper without paying attention to syntax or grammar. That may work for creative writing, but for newsy stories it’s more important to simply immerse yourself in current events.
  • Get to know sources
  • Dig into public documents
  • Keep an idea list. Put the best ones on top. Work on those stories first, then move on down the list.
  • Stories are like building blocks. One story should lead to more ideas.
  • Use your blog to connect with readers, get feedback and ask for ideas.

I hate the thought, but…few story ideas are pure, 100% original. But many great stories have similar elements:

  • Timing
  • Originality of angle or focus
  • Depth
  • Accuracy
  • Flair, quality of writing
  • Execution of the story idea
  • Exclusive, hard-to-reach sources (life’s not fair…connections sometimes do matter)

Best advice: Get out in the world, break free from your immediate social circle, learn, explore, dig.

Walter Burek, author of Inklings: The Copywriter’s Blog, suggests:

  • Keep a well-furnished upstairs. Don’t just read. Get out. Visit museums. Re-read classic novels. Be “relentlessly curious.”
  • Collect words. Words are ideas, too.
  • Resist the temptation to say, “yes, but…” Stick up for your new idea. “Every great oak was once a nut that stood its ground.”
  • Have fun. Be thankful for what you’ve got. Writing for a living, Burek says, is “the toy department of the working world.”

Writer Michelle Ruberg gives these tips:

  • Take a lot of showers
  • Put your subconscious to work
  • Read everything you can get your hands or eyes on
  • Listen up
  • Tap into your own experience
  • Get to know some PR people

Still can’t come up with an idea? Try recycling old news. Find a big story and then update it. Look for a time peg, such as an anniversary. Example: The five-year anniversary of the death of a car-jacking victim. Story top from a piece in the Dallas Morning News:

Lost in the rumble and grit of passing rail cars and tractor-trailer rigs is a quiet place where angels live.
The tiny winged creatures peek out from cubbyholes and corner tables, standing guard as Beatriz Jordan lights a candle for her dead son. Then she pours him a fresh glass of water.
“This is where Bruno lives,” she says. “Here with the angels.”
Five winters have passed since an assailant killed the popular pre-law student in a carjacking. Yet even now, the murder continues to claim victims, wrecking lives and families like a curse. Beatriz Jordan, 76, and her husband Antonio, 79, agonize over Bruno’s murder as their twilight years rush by.

4 thoughts on “How to come up with story ideas

    1. maninhavana Post author

      Thanks for letting me know you couldn’t see my website on your iPad. I hadn’t realized that I hadn’t enabled the site for iPad. It should work now. Thanks again.


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