Every single story ever written can be summed up thusly: someone wanted something. Maybe that something was money, maybe it was power, fame, love, freedom, a sandwich, or just the most basic of all primal needs: to just plain not die today.
The want can be as simple or complex as needed, all it needs to do is motivate the main character or characters, push the story forward, and create conflict. What is stopping the protagonist from getting what they want? What obstacles do they encounter along the way? Why can’t they just make themselves a sandwich? Can’t they go to the store? Can they not afford a sandwich? Why not?
You could make the argument that this is what writing is. Asking questions and then answering them, simple as that. Let’s take our sandwich idea a bit further. Maybe our protagonist in this example can’t afford a sandwich because she’s homeless, or her wallet has been stolen. Okay, that’s a start, either one of those could be a decent premise for a short story or scene, but let’s push it even further. Let’s have fun with it. Maybe our protagonist can’t afford a sandwich because she’s stranded on an alien planet. She doesn’t know the language, she has no idea what is even used for currency, and, honestly, the types of sandwiches she’s seeing in these alien delis really don’t look very appetizing anyway.
This is what I do when I’m stuck for ideas. I start with a very basic want and I keep digging deeper and deeper until I find out everything about this character and why they want what they want. I wrote a short story set in the LOOK universe based entirely on the statement “I’m hungry.” I started with “I’m hungry,” the most interesting response I could think of was “that’s impossible, you’re a robot,” and before I knew it I had a six page comic. I didn’t even start out with the intention of writing a story about Artie and Owen, it just sort of organically worked itself out that way. That’s where my questions and answers took me.
So do all ideas come from these sorts of questions? Maybe not, they tend to work best for shorter stories, but it still helps to ask them. It might get you out of any writing ruts you might be in and help you start thinking in ways you might not normally think. Even if your short story, Lost in Space Without a Sandwich, never gets off the ground, it’s still good practice and might even give you an idea or two for your next story.
Have a good weekend and see you Monday for Ideas and Where to Find Them part 2!