Writers are always looking for new ideas, new themes, new prompts. I had a professor in college who wrote a collection of short stories based on the short, sometimes cryptic, scribblings on the back of old postcards. Other writers get their ideas from their dreams, or from free writing. I know one writer who updates fairy tales…modernizing them to the point where the reader doesn’t see the source material.
Of course, there’s also the argument that there are no more original stories to tell, that every story has already been told. All the modern writer can do is try to find a new way to tell them. I’m not sure I agree with that sentiment, but I can see where the opinion comes from. For example, boy meets girl. Basic story. Been told thousands upon thousands of times. So one could argue this story has already been told.
But it continues to be told by each new generation of writer. Why and how?
Why? Because it’s a timeless theme.
How? Update the time and place, add a new little twist in there.
Result? New story.
Personally, I’ve gotten ideas from many different places. I’ve gotten story ideas from dreams, from reading (newspapers, magazines, other stories), and on occasion they just pop into my head out of nowhere. But the one avenue that I always go back to is my list of story titles.
I don’t recall when I started keeping a list of story titles. I’ve been doing it for probably twenty years or more. I think the idea sprung from an article I once read. So over the years I’ve compiled a fairly extensive list of story titles…just random words or combinations of words that I’ve added to the list every so often. It’s like a mini creative project. Once or twice a year I open the document and spend twenty or thirty minutes coming up with some things to add. Occasionally, I’ll have a thesaurus handy and look up random words. Or I’ll scroll through a news site and pick out some interesting phrases.
Then when I’m ready to start a new writing project, I open my list and read over it, looking for entries that pop out at me or trigger an idea, a scene, maybe a character. In fact, the last three or four stories I’ve written were sparked by that list. And now that I’m ready to begin a new project I’m going to go through the same steps and see what transpires.
So for any writers out there who are interested in an alternative way to trigger a story idea, consider keeping a list of story titles. It’s easy. It’s painless. And you never know, your next great story may be hiding in there.