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Friday, September 09, 2011

Going Plot Fishing - How To Come Up With Original Story Ideas

Today I'm pleased to bring you a guest post from Italian writer Luana Spinetti.

Luana was a recent winner in the Kindle Kash Short Story Contest on my forum at - an excellent achievement, especially considering that English is not her first language.

In her guest post today, Luana suggests an interesting method for generating new story ideas...

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Human creativity is a fussy little creature. At times, it needs to be fed with exotic, original dishes before it's keen to help a writer once more.

I have found myself stuck on beginnings countless times, with no idea on where to go next, but on some occasions there was not even a beginning to start with: I felt lost, numb-minded. Dreams and fiction books can provide a good source for plot ideas, but they don't always work if if you feel you can't add anything new.

A solution that came up to mind was to imitate lottery games, drawing a number of assertions (potential ideas) from a box and using them to shape a plot. Ideas may come from many different sources, including newspapers and magazines, manuals and novels, short-stories or poetry, and they are to be picked randomly. I found this a good way to break out of my writer's block.

Usually, I prefer noting down lines from my sources in a Word file. I then randomly pick by pointing my finger at the screen, eyes shut. However, you could also write down the lines on paper, put them in a box and draw them at random. Edward De Bono also recommends this idea-generation method (he calls it the Stratal Technique) in his book Serious Creativity.

The good thing about this method is that you literally go plot fishing, instead of plot generating. Ideas come to you, and not vice versa. The technique can spare you countless headaches, both in the literal and figurative sense - and that's coming from someone who suffers from migraines.

A practical example. Suppose you collected the following lines from different sources...

  • buses replaced trains on the X line
  • find help on rose growing
  • improve the hand hygiene of your staff
  • do you know how to make lemonade?

Now, you may want to write down a plot for a romantic short-story. Here is a possible start...

A flower-seller girl puts an announcement in the local newspaper to find help for her hothouse roses. Meanwhile, a man loses his job as a medical assistant because there have been complaints over his hands being dirty; in fact, he's a passionate gardener and likes to take care of his plants before work. He needs to find another job; he does, but it's out-of-town. He goes to the station to take a train to his new workplace, but he finds the drivers are on strike and is forced to take a bus instead. He picks the wrong one and gets off a few stops later to ask for information at a newsstand. He buys a local paper to kill time while he waits for another bus, and he spots the flower girl's announcement. 'That's a place I'd really like working at', he thinks, so he goes to the flower shop to ask for the job. He sees the girl on the balcony above the shop, trying to make home-made lemonade. She spots him and asks, 'Hey, you! Do you know how to make lemonade?' He smiles and says 'Yes'...

The above example is nothing special, but that's how 'plot fishing' works. What really counts is your imagination, your ability to extract a plot from a few unconnected lines.

Let your imagination run free, and success will be yours...

Byline: Luana Spinetti is an Italian freelance artist, aspiring writer and blogger. She has a passion for sci-fi stories, SEO and computer science. You can view her portfolio at

* * *

Thanks to Luana for an interesting and inspiring article.

I've used similar techniques myself for generating ideas when nothing is flowing, e.g. opening a dictionary three times at random and trying to incorporate some or all of the words I found.

It seems to me that methods such as these work because they can help us overcome the terror of a blank page. Once we have a few 'seeds' in front of us, our brains can set to work identifying possible connections between them, and turning this into the basis of a story. It's worth a try, anyway!

If you have any other suggestions for sparking off original story ideas, please do share them below.

Photo Credit: Fishing by Boris SV on Flickr

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

WOW! this post was really helpful. thanks!

6:17 AM  
Anonymous Michael Coorlim said...

I've found that the best way to have new ideas is to go out and have more experiences. The more we live, the more our inner muse has to draw from when giving us inspiration.

4:56 AM  

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