Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Story Idea Generators

While The Shadow Scribe is out on query, I need to move on and keep writing. I know I should start the next Big One, but I just can't bring myself to do it yet. I started a long post on why that is, but it was too heavy for a Tuesday, so we'll save it for another day.

Instead, I'm moving on to some short stories. I am lucky to have a relationship with a weekly British woman's magazine that publishes short stories. Woman's Weekly have published two of my stories (2006, 2009) and part one of my first serial will hit the newsstand next week (serials run 3-4 parts of 3800 words each). (If you want to see some excerpts, head on over to my website.) WW recently OK'd another serial idea  so I just sent the first part for their approval. As I wait for word from the editor (yes, one more reason to refresh my inbox 30 times an hour), I need something quick to distract me.

But the question is "Where to Start?" Most of my short story ideas just come out of the blue but sometimes, like this week, I needed a jumping off point. When that happens, I turn to a story idea generator. At first, I was skeptical of the generators, which randomly pair up character, conflict and setting. Some go as far as adding themes, beginnings and endings. Results can be cliched, strange, or just plain nonsense. But for me, the results make me think.

A few months back, I used Cally Taylor's short story generator and it gave me: a business man, a playground, regains consciousness. Naturally that begs the question of what a businessman is doing in a playground. A pedofile? A devoted father? A developer looking at tearing it down and building condos? After musing on that for a moment, the idea for "Know Thyself," my first three part serial was born.

This weekend, I turned to the Seventh Sanctum Quick Story Idea generator. While some of these combinations were way too out there for me (lighthearted tragedy about an unbalanced princess?), I kept seeing the character of "ethical smuggler." It gave me a story idea - hopefully perfect for a 2000 word short for the magazine - that will be my project for the next few days.

The nice thing about short stories is that they give more immediate gratification. I know I won't be editing my story for months at a time. I know that if the magazine rejects it, I've only wasted a few days, not years of my life. And they pay. So I get to feel like my writing is contributing a little to my family.

And you? Have you used any story generators or writing prompt sites, whether for novel ideas or short stories? Do you ever distract yourself from your WIP by writing shorter works?


  1. I've used writing prompts, mostly to help when I've been stuck. I know those story generators work well for some, but I'm stubborn about writing what I "have to," so I doubt they'd work for me.

    BTW, I've tagged you for a fun questionnaire meme over on my blog.

  2. More often than not I get a blast of ideas at once and it's usually all I can do to get those down on paper and then it's nothing for agas...when I've wanted to write something and haven't had that "lightening bolt" I've usually just stuck a couple of randon fragments/jottings out of one of my notebooks together and gone with that...I do find it easier to write short stories if I give myself some overarching theme though.

    Good luck with this.

    It's fantastic that you have the work/relationship with the WW - hope that yields you lots more!

    Wonderful stuff - well done!

  3. I keep a folder too. The story generators give me a jumping off point when I'm running short in other ways.

    Thanks for coming by!