brainstorming stories

Brainstorming Stories: How to Come Up with Great Story Ideas

Salmaan Ahmad

Salmaan Ahmad

August 17, 2023

In need of brainstorming stories for your next writing project? If you’re stuck in the middle of a writing rut, you may have one of these symptoms:

  • You’re struggling to come up with a plot resolution.
  • Writing has become a slog instead of an enjoyable process.
  • You have no idea what you want to write about.
  • None of your ideas inspire you.
  • All your research has left you overwhelmed and unsure where to start.
  • You don’t like the way your writing reads.
  • You’re bored with your characters and story.

If writing has become an uninspired drag, it’s time to get some new ideas. One way to do this is brainstorming stories. You’ll break out of your rut and find a new direction for your writing.

These tips will help fiction and nonfiction writers when brainstorming stories for books—or new ideas for improving the book you’re currently working on.

What Is a Brainstorm?

The term “brainstorm” first appeared in the 1948 self-help book Your Creative Power by Alex Osborn. Subtitled, “How to Use Your Imagination to Brighten Life, to Get Ahead,” it was a guide to harnessing your innate creative powers to improve your work life and personal life.

Today, the term usually refers to a meeting where people get together to produce creative solutions for a problem. In a brainstorm session, everyone speaks openly without fear of being corrected or ridiculed. The underlying assumption is that all ideas are welcome, and all are equally good.

Organizations hold brainstorming sessions to encourage new approaches and show that everyone’s contribution matters. Once the various ideas are down on paper, the group can develop workable plans based on the best ones.

You may not have a group ready to sit for brainstorming stories with you, but you can adopt similar techniques to move past your creative blocks. These brainstorm story tips will help both new and experienced writers.

Keep an Idea Box for Brainstorming Stories

In an article for Writer’s Digest, author Paula Munier suggests keeping what she calls an idea box. This is where you store everything—your notes, photos, articles, maps, keepsakes, or pictures—that inspire your writing or might help you craft a story.

“Every writer,” she says, “should have a physical place, be it a box under the bed, a file cabinet in the corner, or a bulletin board on the wall, to keep anything and everything that might prove useful for a story someday.”

Munier notes that she uses a cupboard to store plot ideas and other things she might use in a story. She admits that her approach of using physical notes and objects is old-fashioned and suggests using digital “boxes” if those work better for you.

Try Freewriting for Brainstorming Stories

Freewriting is a popular method many authors use for brainstorming stories. To do it, set aside a chunk of interrupted time. Around 30 minutes is ideal, but if you only have 15 minutes, use that. Set a timer, and start writing.

During the freewriting session, you write nonstop without pausing to edit, think about, correct, or organize your words. Let them come out without trying to make sense of them.

Are you getting an image like the scary one of Jack in The Shining, who spent hours typing nonsensical sentences for hundreds of pages? Don’t worry, freewriting won’t turn you into a crazed axe murderer. Your sentences may not make much sense, but there could be useful information in them. Read them over, and see if any ideas jump out at you.

Listen to the Music when Brainstorming Stories

If you’re writing a book, you have a clear sense of how you want your readers to feel at the start, middle, and end of your story. One way to get you in the mood to write is to develop a musical playlist or a movie list that matches those emotions.

Do you want to write a powerful, sweeping romance? Make a playlist of music that makes you feel like you’re carried away in a romance. If your story is lighthearted and breezy, get some music that matches that mood. Are you writing a mystery novel? Get some music that sounds creepy and mysterious.

Don’t worry about writing anything. Listen to your music choices, and let ideas and pictures fill your thoughts. If you want to, you can dance, hum, or just close your eyes and feel the emotions. Later, you may want to use that same music while you’re writing.

Keep a Notebook Handy for Brainstorming Stories

As you know, some of your best ideas hit you when you’re busy doing something else. How many times have you suddenly thought of the perfect line of dialogue or opening paragraph—but at the time, you were in the shower or on the bus on your way to work?

Good ideas for brainstorming stories can strike anytime. Unfortunately, they can leave just as quickly. To keep them at hand, have a notebook and pen with you all the time. Some writers use their pocket calendars for this purpose, and others have a dedicated notebook or stack of index cards.

Be Kind to Yourself When Brainstorming Stories

This may seem like an odd tip, but are you being too tough on yourself? You might be overly critical of your own writing and unable to believe that anyone would like what you’ve written.

Even your favorite writers had moments of self-doubt, and all of them went through the experience of writing badly before they figured out how to write well.

Neil Gaiman has written many award-winning novels and TV screenplays, but he once noted that he was embarrassed by his early attempts at writing. Here’s his advice on getting past it:

“Write more. And remember that everyone who writes anything good wrote a lot of bad stuff first. You are learning, be kind to yourself, just as you would be kind to anyone learning to do something hard, like juggling or ballroom dancing or surgery.

Learn from your mistakes, and get better, and one day you’ll write something you don’t loathe. Also, it’s fine to dislike something you’ve written. But don’t dislike yourself for having made it.”

Make a “What If” List for Brainstorming Stories

Many successful writers suggest making a “What if?” list for brainstorming stories. To do this, take a piece of paper, and write “What if?” in large letters across the top.

Now, try to list 20 ideas that start with those two words. For instance:

  • What if you married a wealthy man and discovered that his money came from criminal activity?
  • What if your brother pushed you from a 10-foot window?
  • What if the moon really were made of green cheese?

Make the list as outlandish or ridiculous as you want. This is a brainstorming session, so let the words flow.

Once you have it written, see if any of your “what if’s” might make a good story or subplot for your novel.

Use Your Brainstorm Story Ideas to Develop a Plot

These brainstorming tips won’t give you a fully developed plot, but they will get you thinking in new, creative ways about your book. If you get a great idea, try to develop it into a workable story that has the necessary plot elements of conflict and resolution.

We hope our tips have helped you brainstorm story concepts and take a fresh approach to your writing. We specialize in working with first-time authors who want to be in print. When your book is ready, contact Publishing Xpress.

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