Know Idea? Where the hell do you get ideas from?

Generating story ideas…

You know, I remember being good at this. It wasn’t that long ago even (I think). But today, when trying to come up with 5 story ideas… Christ, it was hard as hell.

I recall reading somewhere that creativity is a muscle, and if you don’t exercise it, you lose form. It gets harder. A few years ago, I was doing this every week, every day even. Every Friday Fiction or TerribleMinds writing prompt was like a creative bench-press or bicep curl (or squat – don’t skip leg day kids).

But its been so long that… today it felt like that part of my brain had completely atrophied.


So why am I talking about ideas? Two reasons:

  1. I recently joined a writers group – just a casual thing with some good mates who are all ‘authorly inclined’. So, needless to say, 2 days in, I’m inspired. Is authorly a word?  Meh, it is now.
  2. As part of the writers group, we listened to Writing Excuses Season 10 Episode 1: Seriously, where do you get your ideas?

Check it out, its a few years old now, and its brief (15 minutes).

And it has homework.

Write down five different story ideas in 150 words or less. Generate these ideas from these five sources:

  1. From an interview or conversation you’ve had
  2. From research you’ve done (reading science news, military history, etc)
  3. From observation (go for a walk!)
  4. From a piece of media (watch a movie)
  5. From a piece of music (with or without lyrics)

This exercise might not generate the very best ideas you’ve ever had, but it will definitely flex your idea muscles in new ways.

From Writing Excuses Season 10 Episode 1.

So, here is my homework. Five ideas I belted out while eating a salad at lunch. Feel free to let me know what you think.


from an interview or conversation

Can we count a twitter chat as a conversation? We better, otherwise my only ideas are going to be about work, which is NOT good story material. In any case, I came across some twitters about hordes of invading refugees, a political confection to create outrage and get votes. This triggered the following:

The world is disrupted when characters, creatures and creations from dreams start to be discovered in the waking world. Fantasies and Nightmares, Terrors and Wet Dreams are found hiding at the edges of society and they are starting to cause trouble. Our hero discovers that something is chasing the dreams out of the sleeping world, and a flood of ‘imagination refugees’ is about to cross over. What is so awful that nightmares break the wall of reality to get away? What happens when the wall between dreams and waking finally shatters entirely? Can it be stopped by our hero, or will he be forever sitting a math exam that he forgot to study for?

from research

I read a bit of research a few years ago about self driving cars, and how one of the big issues was programming them for ethical decisions in emergencies. I was clearly interested enough to make a note about it, which I found today, and smashed it into this:

Humanity has already given up so many little things to machines; remembering things (phone numbers, dates and times of meetings, addresses, etc) movement (cars, scooters, etc)… what if we delegated all our ethics? Our emotions? 

“Siri, tell me how I should feel.”

What if everything mechanical had a pre-programmed response to the trolley problem? Would the bus in the movie SPEED simply have quickly driven itself to an empty car lot and let itself and everyone on it explode? What about a real world event like 9/11? 

I also wondered about the idea of patching ethics when opinions shift. Your car has a new solution to the Trolley Problem; Update Now Y/N? Choosing to update or not may itself be an ethical decision.

from observation

This was a tough one, as I spent the day at work, or walking to work, or walking home from work. It’s all very familiar, so rather than look at places or things, I tried observing people. I noted a pretty young woman with some rather extensive leg and arm tattoo’s, which triggered and merged with an older idea I had a while ago. Does it count…? Meh, whatever:

An ex-surgeon has debts. He pays these debts by finding and selling at a dark-web auction tattoos that are of extraordinary quality and interest…and after agreeing a price, he harvests them from their current owner, frequently trapping the target by befriending and isolating them first. The surgeon sees a woman with a full body, head to toe tattoo that is incredible, and he quickly takes a photo and sells it for an incredible sum, to a Very Bad Man. As he befriends the woman though, he falls for her, and he now faces a tough decision that puts both of them in danger.

from a piece of media

This one was again, a bit of an older idea that I crystallized a bit today. It’s source is the Caiphas Cain Warhammer 40k novels – books that are very different from most 40k novels in that they are humorous. My idea:

Doctor Lovecraft; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gibbering Horrors From Beyond Space and Time.

A cynical and sarcastic academic is currently living his best life; pretending to be an Occultist researcher, whilst living fat off the teat of grant money from ‘a bunch of silly old widows and widowers’. Whilst on a fully funded ‘research tour’ (a quick stop off at a dismal little European village to get some photos of their dreary looking town and their drearier looking people, before spending a month in Ibiza writing some believable bullshit for publication in some shitty barely respectable pseudo-academic journal), our occultist is inadvertently dragged into a madness inducing ritual that threatens to release a flood of shuddering horrors into reality.

It is of course, up to him to save the world.

….from a piece of music

The song:

The idea:

Someone is going around helping wounded and damaged veterans. Getting them back on their feet, giving them jobs, health care and importantly – promising help with their mental health issues. For our hero, an ex-soldier suffering PTSD, addicted to opiates and living homeless on the street, they seem like a god-send, and the experimental treatments are working wonders for his piece of mind. At least…that’s until the dreams start. Dreams of missions, dreams of killing, dreams of murder. When the details of one of his dreams matches up in frightening detail with a real life atrocity that happened on his home soil, our hero begins to worry that this charity is not about helping these lost and ignored warriors, but rather about accumulating an already trained and dangerous army.

So – there you have it – 5 freshly baked (half-baked at least) story ideas. Let me know what you think!

How do you get your ideas? Do you struggle or do you have too many to work on?

If you listen to the podcast, let me know if you end up doing the homework and share a link below.



PS: Current word count is 3,323.

Published by: wildbilbo

My name is Kristian Thoroughgood, alternately known as KT to my friends, or @WildBilbo on twitter. As of August 2015, I am forty years old. Australian. My blog is intended to be both a place for me to polish my creative writing muscles (not a double entendre) and for others to read and comment on my musings. Expect short stories, articles, essays and other brain dumps. My opinions are my own, and whilst I take care to be at least moderately informed about any topic I speak or write about, these opinions are subject to rapid change in the face of passionate arguments and greater evidence. Please note - on my blog, Evidence beats Passion.

Categories Writing, WritingTags, 6 Comments

6 thoughts on “Know Idea? Where the hell do you get ideas from?”

  1. Writing groups are great. My writing improved when I was in one, but each eventually ended. I’m not in one now. I’ve looked and asked around, but nothing.
    My favorite how-to-book on writing is by John Truby. The Anatomy of Story.
    Happy writing,


    1. …And the writing group has been excellent. Many of the War Wizard concepts stem from me spit balling with these guys. And everyone sharing their word counts is both inspiring and motivating. I think it helps to form one out of people you already know in real life, if you have those sort of interested people around.

      Liked by 1 person

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