How to Come Up with a Story Idea.



When I saw this title I had to laugh. Most of us have way more ideas for stories than we’ll ever have time to write. I always say the difference between an idea and a book is about 55,000 words.

I was driving to visit my brother in Montana several years ago and I noticed this car on the interstate. Kind of beat up, but the same kind of car my daughter once drove so that caught my attention. Do you know how many times between Denver and Cheyenne I saw that car. Maybe 15. I’m pass them, twenty minutes later they go around me. I blow past a gas station and there was that car just pulling back onto the highway. We even stopped for lunch at the same fast food joint.

In the back of my mind a story began to form and I started playing the What if game. Want to play?
Here goes.
What if: the driver of the beat up car in on the run? Why?
She’s a single mother running away from an abusive relationship. Or-what’s your scenario?

okay
What if, the hero is in the big SUV, keeps seeing her and wonders about her.
Why? Her little boy reminds him of the son he lost in a car accident. Or-what’s your scenario?

Okay
What if they stop at the same rest stop and he sees someone trying to take her child away from her?
Why?
Because they’re thugs hired by her ex-husband to kidnap the child and the hero saves the day and winds up taking them in his car.
Why?
Because her junker won’t start and she begs him to get her out of there.

Okay, that’s how you play the What If game. For me, this is where stories ideas grow into novels. What about you? How does your process work?

7 comments:

Roxann Delaney said...

What if her husband is dead and she's running from his parents who want to take her son?

What if he had a former wife who planned and executed a miscarriage when she was pregnant?

Oops! That was the first book I sold.

Yes, it really does work that way. You see something and play the game until you have the book of your heart. (Hint: If you play the game well, every book you write is the book of your heart.) And if you learn and keep learning, those books will be loved by an editor who will buy them.

Penny Rader said...

Thanks, Pat!

I love your 'what if' scenarios. I'm not so good at coming up with the 'what if' questons, but I'm trying to get better.

Btw, did you write that story?

Joan Vincent said...

Story ideas come from incidents exactly like you described. You see something and begin to wonder, ask questions, and --viola-- a story forms. The very first "book" I ever wrote came about after I read a medieval romance. For some reason it made me wonder what would happen if a princess had a look alike. What if the princess needed to travel to her wedding but the king knew someone would try to kill her? Why not send the look alike on a very public journey while the real princess traveled incognito? The story grew and grew in my mind until I finally wrote it.
The strangest way I ever got a story idea was when a sweet regency I was writing turned into the first book of my honour series. I could just see all the cavalry officers atop a hill a la The Magnificient Seven--still can. Before that book was finished I dreamed entire plots of all the rest. Not that those stories have proven easy to write but it still amazes my how "complete" the ideas were. The mind is really like a computer chugging away and spitting out results every now and then.

Pat Davids said...

Penny,
Somewhere in my idea file is the the first couple chapters of Someone Else's Mrs. Jones, but it has never gone beyond that.
Pat

Penny Rader said...

I love that title, Pat!

What happened with your look alike story, Joan?

Joan Vincent said...

Penny,
I finished it but never tried to sell it. I set it in a make-believe world and it had other problems. It's with my other completed manuscripts. I haven't looked at it for years.

Reese Mobley said...

I told you. They come from the idea store. (grin)
XOXO