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Generating Story Ideas, by SM Johnston

Don’t underestimate a daydream. For me, daydreaming plays an important part in my creation of concepts. Scenes flash through my mind, quite often like movie scenes with narration. It often happens while I’m listening to music – sometimes while at the gym or driving (and I have a forty minute drive to work so that’s a lot of time for story ideas to develop). Other times I get a hypothetical question pop into my head and my mind starts drifting off thinking about how that would work in reality.

For example, my short story Karma, which was runner-up in The Australian Literature Review’s YA short story competition, was inspired by the question “What if there were people out there who were responsible for ensuring karma was delivered?” From there I start running through a list of possible characters, their names, what they look like, how this subgroup in society is run. This imagination time is a perfect opportunity for world building.

Luckily, when I came up with the concept of Karma I was at my computer. Other times when I’m out I have to rely on writing my ideas down as quickly as possible. Notebooks are a writer’s best friend. Keep them everywhere. Admittedly, I have gotten odd looks when I’m scribbling my notes down like crazy in the gym shower room, but capturing those precious ideas is vital. Keep them in your car, next to your bed, in your bag and anywhere else you can think of. One time I had a really strong inspiration for a short story while listening to Pearl Jam and I had to keep repeating the words over and over in my head until I pulled up at my house and had the opportunity to get it onto paper.

Some writers have set play lists that help them get into the writing groove. Personally I have trouble writing with music on, but it definitely helps in the imagination process. I play a lot of Taylor Swift when I’m writing YA contemporary and shift to bands like Good Charlotte, AFI and Simple Plan when I’m delving into darker writing. Find your muse and play it loud.

Don’t be afraid to store plot bunnies either – that is story ideas that you may not be able to work on then and there. Jot down your ideas and keep them for when you’ve finished your latest project. It’s important to not stifle your creativity.

Your own life can also be inspirational for the story writing process. My short story Growth was based on my experiences with my dad dying of cancer. Because it was autobiographical, I could leave things as they were. But another story inspired by my experiences with Dad, a YA GenFic WIP called The Living List, is fiction, so I am taking a lot of my feelings from the experience and expression them in a different way. I spent a lot of time imagining what it would have felt like if I had of lost Dad as a teenager instead of as an adult.

If you want to hone your imagination skills, try looking for flash fiction competitions. They often have a picture or a few words as a prompt. They’re a great way to get your creative juices flowing.


SM Johnston bio page

The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer's CraftMentors, Muses & Monsters  : 30 Writers on the People Who Changed Their LivesThe Salt RoadAuslanderTo Ride the Gods' Own StallionAllegianceThe Immortal Rules (Blood of Eden)

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