Starting Stories Before You Know What They Are

What do you do if you need to write a story, but you don’t have any ideas for a story?

Yeah, that sounds a little silly (kind of like putting the cart before the horse). Sometimes, however, you decide to submit something to a contest, a magazine, etc. You look up the requirements and learn about the genre(s) and word count range that the story needs to be. All you need is something to write about.

If you don’t have any spare ideas lying around and gathering dust (in the spare idea cupboard), what do you do?

I more or less forced this problem on myself a few months ago when I started twytte. I challenged myself to write and post a new poem or story (or part of one) every day. I was already writing every day, but this was different. Before, I was writing because I had a book to finish – I had a story I wanted to work on that inspired the writing. I still have lots of stories that I want to work on, but they’re mostly novels. I didn’t want to use them for a little snippet or poem. So I could either come up with new ideas, or I could give up on the writing experiment.

I’m not very good at giving up on stuff. That meant I had to figure out a way to start writing before I knew what story I was going to write. Well, necessity is the mother of invention, right? I got lots of practice, and eventually, I found a method that worked for me.

When I need a starting point, I generally try to think of 1 of 3 things: a unique/weird situation, character, or first line. Once I have 1 of those, I start writing about it and let it lead me into a story. They don’t need to be unique or weird although if they are, it not only helps keep the story from getting too flat or stereotypical but it also gets the brain moving.

I don’t know about you, but nothing makes my brain start writing a story faster than taking two things that don’t usually go together (or better yet, shouldn’t go together) and putting them together. It makes me want to figure out how the idea will work – to explore it.

That’s how Deathwalker started. It wasn’t on my list of novels to write. I wasn’t even planning to make it a novel at that point. I really only needed to write a certain amount that day, thought of the first lines, and let it grow from there. After a while, I decided to add to it. The more I did, the more I liked it. Suddenly, the plot grew in my head, and I had a book I was working on. And it all started with that unique/weird idea.

Seriously, try it sometime. You might really like what comes out of it.


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