Image Credits: Images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos. One image directly from Pixabay.
As I write a lot of flash fiction and short stories, as well as posts like this, I always need to find ways of coming up with ideas. It is also sensible to have a variety of methods to find ideas because (a) it keeps things interesting for you as the writer and (b) you don’t run the risk of becoming stale.
Why the latter? If you only use one or two methods to trigger ideas, at some point you will find the well you draw from dries up! Your wells of inspiration need to be topped up continually and using different ways to come up with ideas helps with that. Also this approach gives you spare wells! That to my mind is always a good idea in itself. It also keeps you on your creative toes, which is another good thing.
Back to Basics
Read. Read more. Read more again. Read in and out of your genre. Read non-fiction as well as fiction. Read classic and contemporary. Read books, magazines, listen to audio books and so on. Why?
Firstly it makes sense to support the industry you want to be part of and, secondly, every writer is inspired in some way by what they themselves have loved/still love reading. So the more you read, the wider the pool you have to fish from when it comes to being inspired.
Inspiration sparks ideas for stories of your own. So the more you can be inspired, the more often that spark will ignite. Besides which it’s fun! You also work out what you like and what you dislike. You can apply what you learn here to your own writing.
Prompts – A Variety of Sources
Writing prompts are fabulous for making you think in different ways and I’ve found they’ve increased my creativity and productivity. I use books of prompts (and have contributed to some published by Bridge House Publishing – links to some of these below).
I use story cubes. I use opening and closing line prompts. I also use a wide range of random generator prompts. These range from random words (including things like random adjectives, nouns etc) to random pictures, questions, themes, objects. The idea here is use random words in a story in some way. I use the pictures/objects type to bring those things into my story but the question one especially often gives me a title for my piece and usually the theme as well. The random phrase generator is useful for setting your theme.
Prompt Book Links
Prompts 2021 – Prompts 2021
The Big Book of Prompts – The Big Book of Prompts
Prompts 2020 – Prompts 2020
Using Random Generators to Help Produce Characters
The random theme one often leads me to think of a character which could suit the generated theme. I can then outline both the character and a possible story. I sometimes use the random question generator to help me work out things about my character before I write their story up.
When I know my character well enough, I can get on with that first draft. For my shorter work, I only need to know a few things but using the random question generator helps me to discover what really makes my character tick.
I have produced hundreds of flash fiction pieces using the random generators. I wouldn’t have thought of these stories in any other way.
Useful Random Generators
Random Question Generator – https://faculty.washington.edu/ejslager/random-generator/index.html
Random Number Generator – https://www.random.org/
Random Theme Generator – https://thestoryshack.com/tools/theme-generator/
Random Word Generator – https://randomwordgenerator.com/
Random Picture Generator – https://randomwordgenerator.com/picture.php
Random Phrase Generator – https://randomwordgenerator.com/phrase.php
What I have found useful is setting my own parameters for using these things. You can generate as many items as you wish but I have found limiting what I generate has (a) prevented me from feeling overwhelmed – the what do I choose from this lot to write about scenario; and (b) it makes me focus.
With the word generators, I call up three options at a time. If I don’t like the look of those, I’ll generate another three. I’ve found ideas start to occur quickly doing this. Sometimes I end up going back to the first lot of words I called up as an idea has occurred while I was examining the second lot generated. This is another Murphy’s Law of the Writing Life but at least it is a productive one.
The generators are effectively algorithms. Some of the word ones also allow you to pick the starting and/or closing letters, how many letters you have in the words etc. Decide what you think would be most useful to you and stick with that. I’ve found only generating a few words at a time to be so helpful it is now what I tend to stick with. I also generate three images at a time and so on.
I like to mix up the kind of generator I use too, again to keep things interesting, but I was especially pleased to find a good use for the random number one. How can random numbers come into fiction? Simple. I’ve used a figure generated (314), turned it into a time (314 = five minutes and fourteen seconds), and then used that as a countdown. The action of the story centred on that countdown. I’ve also used a random number as the number of an address where the story happens. So it can be done.
Flash NANO 2023
Flash NANO is the short form writer’s answer to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month – always held in November). The latter asks people to write 50,000 words over the course of the month. For Flash NANO, participants get set a prompt for each of the thirty days of November. You can share your stories or discuss how things are going on the Facebook page set up to go with this.
Some of the prompts are types I’ve done before but there are others which are new. Back in 2022 one of the challenges was to write a piece in the style of a police report. It was the first time I’d written anything like this, it was fun to do, and the story ended up being broadcast by Hannah Kate on North Manchester FM on her Three Minute Santas flash fiction show. I call that a result!
I never know what kind of prompt I am going to get either. The challenge here is to come up with something. You can always work on this and improve it later. You cannot edit a blank page.
These are great, especially the type that sets you (a) a theme, (b) an opening line, (c) something you have to include in the story at a point to suit you, and (d) a word count or any combination of these. I’ve found with these it pays to work out what kind of story I’m going to write and then the character who will “serve” it.
Having boundaries encourages creativity because you do learn to make the best out of what you’ve been given. That stretches your imagination and again you will come up with ideas you would not have had otherwise because it has been stretched. Thinking laterally pays off for fiction writing in particular.
One lovely thing with the generators is sometimes they can trigger ideas for non-fiction posts. I can use the question ones directly and often the theme ones as well for this. Also for fiction, I can get my characters to answer the questions generated. That is their story so I have an idea and a structure all in one hit, so to speak. I’ve also found it to be great fun just playing with the generators and seeing what I can come up with.
Writing regularly with these aids (and that is all they are) helps you develop your preferred way of using them. You will end up developing favourites – I do love the random question one especially. One question generated – What’s something you learned in the last week? – I got a character to answer. They learned from a mistake. But this question could also be used as the theme for an interesting article/blog post.
However you find ideas for your writing, have fun and do try out the random generators. The fact it is random challenges you to see what you can do with the prompt. I love that aspect.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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