Simple ways to generate story ideas

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Inspiration, I have discovered, benefits from structure. Good ideas do appear from “nowhere,” but they can also be eased into existence by pre-existing frameworks.

Earlier this month I completed a course on fiction writing with Oxford University online. It taught me a really useful lesson about story building. I learnt how to shape a story around the three act framework.

  • Act 1: The story begins
  • Act 2: The heart of the action
  • Act 3: The story concludes

Most importantly, I learnt about turning points. At the turning point the character makes a decision that produces the action in the next act.

  • Act 1: Lucy sees a chimpanzee in the street.
  • Turning point 1: Lucy decides to follow the chimpanzee.
  • Act 2: The chimpanzee climbs onto a ship.
  • Turning point 2: Lucy decides to follow the chimpanzee.
  • Act 3: The chimpanzee runs into the hold. The hold is full of captive chimpanzees.
  • Turning point 3: Lucy decides to release the chimpanzees and they all escape the ship.

The turning points move the action forward. If Lucy had made different decisions it would not be the same story.

I find that working within a turning points framework helps me to generate stories.

(Before taking the course I struggled with fiction writing because my characters were often quite passive. The world swirled around them and things happened to them. Structuring stories around decisions also makes my characters into much more active people.)

So that’s one example of a useful framework. What other frameworks can we use to help ideas into existence?

Well, there’s picture collecting. If you see something fascinating, keep a visual record of it.

  • Collect pictures of interesting locations, people and events. Display them on a notice board.
  • Join Pinterest. Collect online images related to the general area you think you want to write about.
  • Browse through the free images on Pexels.com.

Once you have enough collected material, play with bringing it together in different combinations to create the framework for your story. Here’s a story I made after browsing for outdoor pictures on Pexels.

Photographer shoots picture of a deer. She sees an escaped tiger on the loose. She jumps into her car and rushes to alert the police.

pexels-photo-610293.jpeg

hirsch-forest-wild-fallow-deer-45175.jpeg

pexels-photo-572861.jpeg

pexels-photo-210019.jpeg

Or perhaps it doesn’t happen like that.

When she’s taking a photograph of the deer, she sees a hunter who wants to shoot it.

pexels-photo-669283.jpeg

She goes to stop the hunter. It is love at first sight and they marry in the woodland where they met.

pexels-photo-566456.jpeg

Under her influence, the hunter becomes a wildlife photographer and stops killing animals.

pexels-photo-572861.jpeg

 

What frameworks and structures do you use to create ideas? You are welcome to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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