The Journal: Story Ideas

In today’s Journal

* Topic: Story Ideas
* Of Interest

Topic: Story Ideas

As I was telling a friend recently, story ideas can come from anywhere. Most often they come to me as a character or two popping into my head, usually with a line of dialogue that frames the genre and the story voice. Less often, something I see physically or overhear or read will spark a story idea. Regardless of the mode of their arrival, my stories are seldom born of whole cloth. A story idea is only a lever to get you to the keyboard.

While I was writing on Blackwell Ops 8 yesterday one of the characters handed me an idea, not only for a new novel but for a new series of novels. And in “Of Interest” today, I linked to two of the four posts because I found them compelling and rife with story ideas.

The idea that came to me yesterday as I was writing was whole. I knew instantly who the ‘good guys’ would be and that they were misguided, both by societal standards and by the rule of law. I knew what they would do, and I knew how they would do it. I even know there are three major characters in the group, two men and a woman.

Oddly (for me) there was no dialogue, maybe because I already know the general topic of every discussion, so the specific dialogue isn’t important.

The ideas that flashed past my creative subconscious as I read the third post I linked to in “Of Interest” and browsed the fourth were nothing close to whole. They were mere glimpses of possibilities. I like to call such glimpses the “jagged fragments of fleeting thoughts.” If you have a sense for that, then you know what I mean.

Interestingly, only two of those fleeting ideas included characters at all, one effeminate male who was bent on murder and one female about whom I know nothing else.

The other ideas were only situations or circumstances, bits of setting, and so on. None of the ideas included dialogue. But I could have stopped on any one of them, asked a few questions of the character or situation or circumstance or bit of setting involved and started writing.

I’ve long preached what I mentioned at the top of this post, that a story idea is valuable primarily because it gets you to the keyboard. To that end, you need only a character with a problem in a setting. Then you sit down and write whatever comes.

Based on the story idea that occurred to me as I wrote yesterday, I could have already written the first few chapters of the first novel of the new series. It was just that clean and whole. If something else doesn’t occur to me in the meantime, I might well start it as soon as I finish Blackwell Ops 8.

Of the story ideas I got from the last two items in “Of Interest” (none of which I will write, by the way), one had both a character and a problem so I only needed to add the setting.

Another had only a character. For that one I would need to add a problem (this doesn’t have to be ‘the’ problem of the story — more on that later) and a setting.

The others were all either a situation or a circumstance — both of those indicate a problem so each would require only the addition of a character and a setting — or bits of setting, so would require only the addition of a character with a problem.

More on the “Problem” in the Story Idea

As I mentioned above, in the equation character + problem + setting = story idea, the “problem” doesn’t have to be ‘the’ problem of the story. The problem mentioned in the equation is only something to start your fingers moving over the keys.

In an example I’ve used many times, say a young man (character) in a suit and carrying a briefcase steps out of his house (setting) to leave for work. On the porch (setting), he glances down and notes his left shoelace is untied (problem).

That’s the story idea. It’s all you need, even right now, as you’re reading this, to write a whole short story or novella or novel. Once you add your description of the character and the setting (both from the creative subconscious, of course), this would be probably 200 to 300 words or more. Don’t forget what the POV character sees, hears, smells, tastes (?) and feels (physically and/or emotionally)

Naturally, the character would set his briefcase down, kneel, and reach to tie his shoelace. (He is correcting the problem.) But just as he kneels, a gunshot sounds and wood splinters fly from the shattered doorframe of the house.

Now we see the beginning vestiges of the real problem. What does the man do? Does he immediately turn on his knees, grab the door knob and scramble back into the house, leaving the briefcase behind? Does he grab the briefcase, then try to go into the house? Does he grab the briefcase, then lunge off the side of the porch? Does a second bullet hit and kill the man? Do others scramble onto the porch to retrieve the briefcase? Does another man walk calmly onto the porch, step over the body, and greet the new widow, who opens the door to admit him?

The possibilities (and genres) are endless. What happens next and maybe what’s in the briefcase will determine the direction and genre of the story. Of the male characters thus far, is the first a young bad guy, a good guy, or just a minor player caught up in the affairs of stronger people? And we could ask the same questions about the character who steps over the body (if that happens) and even about the woman who’s still in the house.

It’s all up to your creative subconscious. Best of all, if 100 people wrote a story based on the original premise, we’d end up with 100 different stories. Some might be similar, but none would be identical.

By the way, you can’t copyright an idea. If the basic premise beckons you, feel free to write whatever story occurs. Have fun.

Talk with you again later.

Of Interest

See “Book Promotion Services: Which Ones Are Right for You?” at

See “Hidden Gems In the Workshop Sale” at

See “The Face That Replicates” at Maybe a story idea.

See “The lasting anguish of moral injury” at More possible story ideas.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1080 words

Writing of Blackwell Ops 8 (tentative title, novel)

Day 19… 2117 words. Total words to date…… 41729
Day 20… 2025 words. Total words to date…… 43754

Total fiction words for July……… 2025
Total fiction words for the year………… 47430
Total nonfiction words for July… 10790
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 104920
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 152350

Calendar Year 2022 Novels to Date…………………… 0
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 66
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. I’ve never said WITD is “the only way” to write, nor will I ever. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among other topics.