Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

By: J.T. Evans 

I think the #1 question most writers dread is, "Where do you get your ideas?" The main problem with this question is that some of aren't sure. Sometimes an idea leaps unbidden into our head. Other times, we'll hear a phrase or lyric, and it will inspire creative thought. Getting ideas is one of those things that seems to come naturally to most writers.

However, there are times when the ideas won't flow. Sometimes, you're working on a novel and get stuck. Sometimes, you're trying to start a short story, but the ideas won't flow the way you want.

I used to be part of an improv writing group (one I'd love to resurrect). When we're given a whopping five or ten minutes to write on an idea, there needs to be some form of direction. I call this a "creative compass." There needs to be some target to attempt to hit. Sitting someone down and telling them, "Write a short story" isn't much help at all. If you give them a genre to go with, that helps some, but most genre definitions are so broad, it's not much of a direction. This is where idea tokens come into play.

In my improv writing bag (yeah, I have a whole bag dedicated to it), I have loads of dice and cards inside to assist me in generating idea tokens. They are invaluable to me when coming up with story ideas, character quirks, genres, and other random ideas I use to feed my brain before writing a story.

These tokens can be created very fast. As an exercise, I decided to create 12 idea tokens for 52 short stories. This was part of my writing goal for 2016, so in late December, I sat down one night with the goal of creating 52 story ideas so I could start writing in January. It took me about three hours of work (and cataloging the ideas on a spreadsheet) to create the 624 idea tokens I needed for the 52 stories. 

That's a little over three idea tokens created each minute. I went a little overboard with the 12 per story because I generally only need three to four for starting my engine on a short story. This means, in about a minute, you can use randomizers like cards and dice to create the tokens you need to run with a short story… or maybe the opening of a novel!

I use quite a few different tools on creating these idea tokens. My favorite is Rory's Story Cubes. There are also some great games that can be utilized for creating idea tokens. Some of them are Once Upon A Time, 99 Chances, and Dixit

There are also some wonderful, writer-centric, products out there to assist you with getting that creative spark. These include Writer Emergency Pack, Storymatic, Story Forge Cards, or you can even use homemade index cards with genres written on them.

There are quite a few digital tools for iPads (and probably Android as well, but I own an iPad, so that's where my experience lies). The ones I own are Brainstormer, Rory's Story Cubes (again, but on my iPad), Writer's Dice, Writer's Lists, and Story Spark.

As you can see, there are a wide variety of randomizers on the market. If you're interested in stretching your boundaries as a writer, or just need a fresh idea or three, I highly recommend you check out the products I've listed above to see what you can find that will ignite your passion for writing.

If you have some favorite tools for idea creation, please drop them our way in the comments below.


  1. This fascinates me. I have to check out some of these writer centric products. Never heard of them. On it - Thanks Donnell!

  2. Kait, wish I had written this, but J.T. Evans did. He's so savvy about apps and devices and such!


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