Cross Train for Story Ideas

08, Nov 2013 by Kathy Steffen">Kathy Steffen in Brainstorming,Featured,Writing Craft     ,   4 Comment

…good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun…

–Stephen King

Use cross thinking to get you to think differently and allow a story idea to come literally from nowhere. A great idea may hit you during these creative writing exercises, or more likely, a few hours later when you are eating, running, taking a shower, while sleeping, the next morning…Why not wake up your muse and get her thinking? Look at the wildly successful Hunger Games. Author Suzanne Collins was channel surfing and seeing a reality show and next, images from a news channel on the latest war got her thinking. So give it a try and you may come up with the next bestselling concept.

Pet __________ (okay, Pet Cemetery has been done and so has the idea of combining a pet and racetrack (The Art of Racing in the Rain) but what about other stories including pets? What about a pet theater? Pet palace? Pet casino? A pet at Stonehenge?)

A __________ for the elderly (“home” is the first thought, but keep going). What happens when a coed arrives at college to find her roommate is in her nineties? What about a winery where a mysterious elderly man tends the grapes? What happens when someone drinks the wine? Does wisdom come? Insights? Will the wine possess the drinker? How? Or is this winery a portal to the otherworld and the elderly vintner a guard? Does he choose who drinks his wine, or is consumption arbitrary?

Try an abandoned __________ (logging camp, church, fish boat, trailer park gymnasium, bookstore, temple…you get the idea). Don’t forget to go further with your questions: is anyone there, why and how did she arrive, does she want out, is the building alive and aware, etc. etc.

A haunted __________                             A murder at ­­­­­­­­­­__________

A secret at __________                             A magical __________

Evil __________                                         Previously undiscovered ______

__________ in the woods                        An old ___ turned into apartments

A __________ shrine                                A __________ museum

A __________ graveyard                          Clues found in a _________

A _____________ wildlife ranch           A ______________ farm


Write about a blood drive at a nuclear reactor. Throw in a roadkill pickup truck (don’t keep this at two ideas, try adding a third). What about an animal protection sanctuary on a city rooftop? A mannequin factory near Stonehenge or a secret hideaway wax museum? An auto junkyard temple where a congregation meets to worship who or what?

Lots of ideas come to mind—not all good, but that’s okay. The point is to jog your muse into generating new connections. As your subconscious (or muse) tries to make sense of connections, ideas will come. Try it, and may scores of excellent, fresh, exciting ideas come flooding your way. Don’t forget to take the next step and ask, “What happens next?”

Kathy Steffen is an award-winning novelist and author of the “Spirit of the River Series:” “First, There is a River,” “Jasper Mountain,” and “Theater of Illusion,” available online and in bookstores everywhere. Additionally, Kathy is published in short fiction and pens a monthly writing column, “Between the Lines.” She writes from a log home in the woods of southwestern Wisconsin that she shares with her husband and three cats. Find out more at

4 thoughts on “Cross Train for Story Ideas”

  1. Barry Chessick says:

    You are right on. A guy was doing some maintenance work for me. He tells me a little about his rags to riches to rags dad. It precipitated a terrific short story.

  2. Lisa M. Scuderi-Burkimsher says:

    Very good article. It gets the mind working with great examples for story ideas.

  3. Thanks for your comment Barry. You’re right–always good to keep your eyes and ears open. Story ideas are everywhere!

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