A lot of people think that the hardest part of writing is coming up with the ideas. After all, once you have the idea worked out the rest of the story should just flow naturally from that, right?
Well, if you’ve actually been a writer for any length of time you know that is pretty much the opposite of the way things really are. Most authors will admit that they have a lot more ideas for stories than they know what to do with. It takes months of careful thought, writing, editing, critique and rewriting to make one good, solid story. In the mean time, while not working on that story idea, you will probably have six to eight really good ideas for stories present themselves to you. That does not include the two or three dozen ideas you have that aren’t any good, sound vaguely interesting but really aren’t worth your time right now, require way more research or technical knowledge than you have the time or money to acquire at the moment, or otherwise don’t mesh with your time and talents.
In other words, if you’re a writer with a real investment in the art of story, you’ll see stories everywhere, and never lack for ideas to follow up on. On the other hand, if you’re not, it may seem like stories simply pop up out of nowhere for some people while you can never seem to get one started.
But not to worry! Finding story ideas is a skill that can be practiced, rather than a talent you are born with. So how does one spot a good story idea?
Well, the first thing you need to keep in mind is that all good stories focus on a compelling conflict. This doesn’t necessarily refer to a physical confrontation, but there must be at least two goals being pursued by a character or characters in the story, and achieving them must conflict somehow. It can be as simple as a man not having enough money to pay rent and buy a present for his girlfriend’s birthday or as complicated as a multisided dispute over territorial rites on a completely fictional world humanity colonizes after achieving space flight. It’s the working out of these conflicting goals that forms the backbone of your plot and gives your story its narrative drive.
The second thing about your story is that your conflict cannot have a simple solution. Even if the solution seems simple at first, there must be enough obstacles in place to make achieving the solution very difficult, if not impossible, otherwise your story will either be too short or feature characters who are painfully shortsighted. If it’s not possible to complicate your story’s solution, it may not be a good idea to pursue.
Lastly, your story idea must interest you, or you won’t have the drive necessary to slog through all the work necessary to turn the idea into a serviceable story. If the idea isn’t working for you, you shouldn’t work for it!
Keep these ideas in mind and sooner or later you’ll find yourself with plenty of ideas to play with. Then all that’s left is the outlining, drafting, character development, writing, editing, rewriting, ripping up huge chunks of plot and redrafting them then finally stepping away from the whole mess and calling it done before it ruins your life!