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5 Unique Ways to Generate Story Ideas

Ollie Ander
Is probably just a couple cats in a trench-coat—the hair shedding and sunlight napping are highly suspect.
We all need to start our story somewhere…but where? Sometimes even finding inspiration is a feat all its own! Whether you’re stuck in a writer’s block, need a jumpstart after finishing your magnum opus, or are just looking for a fun prompt for a writing sprint, here are a few practical places to get ideas for a new story, as well as some fun genre specific games to generate scenarios!


Watch or Read Something Else

We all know that saying: there are no new ideas, just new ways of writing them! It goes something like that, anyway. That sentiment has been said in different ways by various world-renowned authors throughout the ages. Successful creators (in any modern field) will claim part of their success by drawing inspiration from other sources; their predecessors! 
If you don’t know what to write, watch a movie, read a book. Don’t be afraid to seek ideas through consuming other content. No great idea happens in a vacuum! I often find story ideas while watching a movie and thinking, "that was great, but I would have changed this about the plot" and then start working on my own new narrative from there. Always be sure to pay respect to your inspirations and acknowledge their influence.

#vss365

A hashtag that’s thrived on Twitter (rebranded to X) for years is #vss365. The acronym stands for "very short story" and "365 days of the year". The hashtag was created by @FlashDogs in 2016 but has evolved with the writing community and is routinely handed off to be run by a different host every month. Every day has a different word to use as a prompt, and every story should only be as long as what can fit in a social media post.

 #vss365 story example on twitter
A lot of writers like to use #vss365 to jump start their day of writing, while others dip into the prompts to help stave off writer’s block between big projects. Not every prompt is for everyone, but there will always be a new word tomorrow that might tickle your inspiration buds! There are variations of #vss for different genre communities and across different platforms (like $ Escapril for poets$ ), so with a little searching, you might just find your writerly niche and a community of writers to motivate you too!

ChatGPT

ChatGPT is an AI chatbot created by the company OpenAI in 2022. You’ve no doubt heard about ChatGPT and its sibling generative AI programs as they’ve swept social media controversy the last few years. The companies that make generative AI programs often don’t have the most ethical practices as far as topics like plagiarism are concerned, and the programs themselves should never be considered a stand-in to replace the work of human creators, but as a tool, if AI is used smartly and sparingly, it can be a wellspring of inspiration.
Chatbots like ChatGPT benefit writers most through their versatility. It’s the only way I know of, aside from asking another writer to spitball ideas with you, to get a response catered to a specific prompt you make. You can literally ask, "What should I write today?" or $ "What’s hot in Romance right now?$ " Stuck on a scene in your novel? Generative AI can help fill in the blanks in your own writing, or provide examples of where it would take the story next.

 asking chatGPT for writing prompts
AI Chatbots can be fun to play around with, but here’s a word of caution: the text they provide cannot be guaranteed as free from plagiarism, so don’t use what it gives you verbatim—take the inspiration and change it into your own words. Everything AI programs get input from could be used in furthering their program learning, so don’t freely give it your writing if you’re worried about content theft. AI products cannot be $ copyrighted$  either.

Submissions

Although it’s an atypical method, I personally get the majority of my story ideas from submission calls. Submission calls are more pointed than the prompts given by communities like #vss365, they will specify a theme, genre, word-count, and a deadline. If you’re anything like myself, the additional guidelines help narrow in on where to start and end, so the nebulousness of all potential story ideas doesn't become too overwhelming to start writing anything at all.

 submittable call for vampire romance
And an added bonus is that if you actually get the story done by the deadline, you can submit it! If you don’t know what to write someday, scroll through $ Submittable$  or $ Duotrope$  for something to try and submit by the end of the month. There are also plenty of submission prompts on writing communities on social media platforms like $ reddit$ . Reading other people’s interpretation of a prompt you’ve also chosen to participate in is always interesting!

Genre Specific RNG Games

When you're stuck for story ideas one of the absolute most fun methods of deciding what to do next is to step back, let go of your writerly urge to control anything, and roll the dice—literally! There are loads of name and scenario generators out there on the internet, but sometimes it is nice to take a more hands-on approach. Here's a few fun little randomizers and simulators you could use to generate ideas, based on the genre you write in!
Romance—Pick up one of those "pick your date" card games from a dollar store when Valentine's Day comes around. Not sure what scenario to put your love interests in? Pick a date card and write them into it—see how they like it!
Supernatural—Don't know what should happen next? Grab a deck of tarots and do a reading—for your story! Even if you don't know all the meanings for all the cards, you can look them up, or make up your own meanings.
Fantasy—Dungeons and Dragons is the obvious answer, but that requires other willing participants and time commitment. There is a free-to-play D&D MMO online, but a much more writerly means of going on a hypothetical writing prompt adventure is to find a Choose Your Own Adventure Book! Raid your local thrift store, pick a protagonist, and run them through a short trial of scenarios until one suits your fancy.
SciFi—AI is technology, right? Try talking with one. You can set parameters on certain chatbots to generate conversations and interactions with you based on a personality as an android or an alien subspecies. "My space ship has crashed, what sort of planet am I on?" See what one says!
Horror—Like all genres, horror has trends, but true cult classics tend to come and go out of the sight of mainstream media. Check out creepypasta host sites for the hottest new spooks—you could even contribute to the trend yourself. Or, if you're a monster feature fiend, you can find some wicked inspiration by running a randomizer on a Cryptid wiki glossary.
General Fiction—Of course story based games can be an inspiration (consuming other content was the first tip on this list, after all), but when you're at a loss for ideas and want to start from the ground up, some writers turn to simulations. There's the classic: Sims. You can make characters, set them wild in an environment and see what happens. It's quite fun to watch character stories inadvertently develop, and you might just find yourself growing endeared to take control and write that story for yourself. (Sims 4 is free to play on Steam—it’s also a great means to flesh out character portraits or design buildings you’d like to use in your writing but have a hard time visualizing on your own.)
Historical Fiction—As above, sometimes the most engaging way to write history is to make it! Pick up a civilization simulator. Even if it's not historically accurate, it could give you a better understanding of how societies are born (and fall!) when writing your own story based on reality.
Make Your Own Randomizer—Pick some characters and scenarios, assign them a number, and roll the dice! Or throw a dart at a dartboard, or pick some cue cards from a slush pile. The act of playing around with ideas will often yield welcome, unexpected inspirations!
Once you’ve found your inspiration and know what story you want to write, the next step is figuring out how to write it. If you don’t already have a preferred outlining method, $ here’s a list of techniques$  that could help streamline your workflow as you bring that amazing new story idea to life!
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