I always have ideas for new writing projects—especially when I’m up to my elbows rewriting. My brain would much rather be working on the next shiny thing than polishing up my works-in-progress.

How do I generate ideas?

Most of my fiction ideas come from wondering “what if. . .” Like, what if a teenager discovers a unicorn living in the woods behind her house? What if a woman recognizes a missing girl as someone she’d seen in a recurring dream? What if the new girl in school decides to make friends by running for class president?

Please don’t steal my ideas—I’m working on all of these right now.


Instead, think what if. . .

Sometimes it helps to start with random elements: a setting, a character, a situation. Make lists of these things. Mix them up and see what happens.

Or here. I’ll make it easy for you.

Pick one item from column one, one from column two, one from column three and one from column four and see what happens. You may have to finagle a little.


What if . . .

1 2 3 4
a car buys a peanut but it’s illegal.
a bear spanks a glove and it catches fire.
a doctor eats an atom but there’s an earthquake.
a garbage collector makes an unknown virus and turns it into an empire.
a life guard forms a corporation and becomes very popular.
an insurance salesman follows a hospital but an evil twin ruins it.
a horse breaks a mermaid and it turns into gold.
a dog steals a cellphone and the same day keeps repeating.
a teacher invents a city and starts a trend.
a computer programmer cooks a homeless person but forgets where it is.
an astronaut draws a calendar in the midst of a snowstorm.
a helicopter pretends to be an elevator but there’s a snake in the basement.
a zombie mortifies gasoline just as World War III begins.
a rabbi loses a jogger and falls in love.
a pregnant woman builds money and becomes the next internet sensation.
a teenaged boy loves books and gets transported into a parallel universe.
my left shoe finds a rock band and stumbles into a robbery in progress.
an army sells a clarinet but the warranty expired.
an elephant runs into a backpack while acting as a Russian spy.
the president alienates a nun who turns out to be their birth mother.


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Now it’s your turn. Use this idea generator to come up with a story line. It doesn’t have to adhere strictly to the four items you chose; let your imagination take you where it will. Write a piece of flash fiction or a short story. Post it on your blog or on social media, and include a link below. Or, better yet, submit it to a contest from the Poets and Writers database and tell us about it. (Good luck!)




This guest post was contributed by ARHuelsenbeck. Former elementary general music teacher ARHuelsenbeck blogs about the arts and the creative process at ARHtistic License. She is currently writing picture books and short stories, a YA mystical fantasy and a Bible study guide, and submitting a poetry chapbook, with mystery and MG drafts waiting in the wings. You can follow her on Twitter, and see some of her artwork, photography, and quilts on Instagram.