Fifteen Story Ideas Before Lunch
“Everyone walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” – Orson Scott Card
The first time I read this quote, I had just left my job at an office building in Philadelphia. I had a 15-minute walk to the train station, and I did everything I could to identify potential story ideas. One of them ultimately turned into a short story about a young woman who sought revenge for the murder of a friendly squirrel. It was a story I had a ton of fun writing – and one I wouldn’t have written if I wasn’t paying attention to the world around me.
A thousand story ideas seem like so much, but when I really stopped to think about it, just about anything can become a story idea if you have the right spin for it. Of course, it would be difficult to generate even one epic classic a day. Then again, any story idea has that potential.
Since reading this quote, I try to be more mindful of the story ideas that float into my brain every day based on small cues in my environment. To show you what this looks like, here are fifteen story ideas I generated before lunch, based on the world around me:
1. Hack Job. When I woke up this morning, my husband informed me that the VPN was down at his company. No one could log into their network. It got me thinking… What if a spy hacked into the company’s computer system and caused an issue with the VPN? While everyone was panicking about their connection, the spy broke into my husband’s company to steal top-secret classified engineering drawings for a high-tech government robot. (I made this part up – there are no top-secret government robots at his workplace. At least, not that I’m aware of.)
2. The Home That Never Was. As I was running around to get ready for the morning, I noticed that a certain stubborn bird returned this year to try to build his nest in the worst possible place. At first, I was annoyed by the silly thing because we constantly have to remove its half-assed attempts at building a nest. But then I started to wonder what it must be like for the poor thing to return to a destroyed nest day after day. I tried not to get too choked up and took note that a story from the bird’s perspective might be devastating to read.
3. The Bet. My female cat is one of the biggest divas on the planet. It started with me sitting next to her while she ate so my other cat wouldn’t steal her food. Then, eventually, I needed to feed her in a separate room. Now, I have to follow her around so she can eat from multiple locations throughout the house. I can’t help but wonder if she has a bet going with my other cat to see how many rooms in the house I’ll follow her to before I give up. What would that bet look like? How would it play out over the course of her lifetime?
4. One Chick. None. One of my biggest fears is cracking an egg for breakfast and finding a dead chick inside. So, of course, this is the thought that arrived in my head as I was cooking breakfast this morning. In an attempt to drive the sad thoughts from my mind, I instead imagined a live chick hopping from the shell and smiling up at me. What a cute little kid’s story that could be. If you play it out a little further, though, say you get your husband to come to look at the chick, but when you return, it’s just a normal egg, now you’ve got yourself a psychological thriller.
5. Not Mine. After feeding myself, I realized the refrigerator needed a good cleaning. We took everything out that had expired and started the process of emptying the containers. As we were going through this process, it made me wonder what I would do if I found something in the fridge I was certain didn’t belong to my husband or me. What would that mean? Ghosts? A squatter living in my home without my knowledge? Lots of options here.
6. Beneficiary. After cleaning out the fridge, we met with an insurance agent to officially change my beneficiary to my husband’s name. As the situation calls for, I immediately turned to my husband and said, “Please don’t kill me for this.” I then realized how awkward that must be for the insurance agent because what if I did end up dead not long after we signed? Would the insurance agent worry it had something to do with the money? We always focus on the husband and wife in these stories, but what about the people indirectly associated with the couple? What about the insurance agent who just watched the husband become the beneficiary of his wife’s insurance? What would his story sound like?
7. The Selfie Model. After the insurance agent left, I had a little bit of time to take some photos of myself for my website. (I know I should get these professionally done, but I needed a new photo in a pinch.) While my house is quite a distance off the road, I found myself pretending to do something else every time a car would drive past. It made me wonder what stories they would come up with in their heads about a weirdo taking selfies with a ring light in front of her window. What assumptions would they make about me? What stories would they make up about my life?
8. The Pen Model. As I took these photos, I grabbed my favorite pen and posed with it. I thought it would make me look more writer-y. Anyway, it got me thinking about a story about a pen model. Someone who always aspired to go to the top of the modeling industry who instead became a pen model. What would her life be like?
9. Ring. I have to say that I love my Ring Light. It gets me about as close to a professional-looking photo as I’m going to get without the professional photographer. That said, what if the Ring Light had the power to hypnotize you? Or worse, what if it stole pieces of your personality and used them to power the light? What would you be willing to sacrifice for beauty?
10. Final Vacation. Not long after my selfie photoshoot, I logged into work and had a meeting with one of my coworkers. During this meeting, he informed me that he was taking a vacation with his family that was originally supposed to be an international trip. Instead, they are opting for a staycation to spend more time together as a family. This prompted a few story ideas. What if he came back from the staycation to find that it was the last vacation he would ever take? What if he did get to go on the international trip, only to get stuck overseas somewhere? What if he didn’t want to disappoint his kids, so he tried to trick them into thinking it was an international trip? To pull this off, he recruited his friends and family to set up cafes and shops from different cultures and surprise his family. So many what-ifs!
11. Blind and Fiery. I recently built my bearded dragon a new enclosure, and he loves every inch of it! The only thing that’s difficult about the enclosure is that there are lots of new obstacles, and Flip (my beardie) is partially blind. This means that he’s learning the new layout by bumping into things, at least until he gets more acquainted with his new habitat. It made me wonder… What if there was a real, fire-breathing dragon who was partially blind? What would he do? How would he interact with the world? Who would help him? (Okay, obviously, I would help him.) Lots to unpack here.
12. The Plot. At my new job, I am responsible for training new coaches on life coaching skills and concepts. All of our training is held online, which means I need to eliminate distractions from my office to stay focused on my class. Unfortunately, this requires me to kick my cats out until I’m out of class. During class, I heard them meowing quietly outside the door, and I couldn’t help but wonder what they were saying to one another. What kind of plot were they planning to get back inside the office? How would they hatch their plan over time without my realizing their coup?
13. My Own Worst Enemy. Class today was focused on the Inner Critic and how to help clients work through negative self-talk. The Inner Critic exercise is one of my personal favorites because it’s the most common hurdle writers face. During the exercise, we ask clients to personify their Inner Critics into cartoons or small beings. (If you’ve read my previous blogs, you’ll know that my Inner Critic is Meg from Hercules). What if, by personifying your inner critic, you brought it to life. Now, the live version of your Inner Critic is following you around and torturing you with their comments. What if you could see your Inner Critic, but no one else could? What would you do?
14. The Village Within. While I know this one has been done before, teaching the Inner Critic really makes me contemplate whether or not there is a whole civilization thriving inside me. Internal Family Systems Therapy posits that there are multiple ‘parts’ within us that dictate our thoughts, emotions, and actions, but what if they were actually atom-sized beings? What would it be like to meet them?
15. Reconcile. The end of class typically means it’s time for lunch, but before I walked into my kitchen, I noticed a young couple walking together down my street. While this isn’t uncommon, I noticed that the woman was walking just ahead of the man, furiously pumping her arms, while the man hung back, seemingly apathetic. It made me wonder the obvious – what happened? But more importantly, what will their reconciliation story look like?
There you have it: 15 story ideas before lunch. And if I’m being fair to myself, there are story ideas within story ideas on this list. Doing this experiment shows me that there really are a thousand story ideas every day – as long as you’re looking for them.
Note: All of these ideas are open for anyone to experiment with! If you decide to take one and run with it, please let me know! I’d love to see how you bring these ideas to life!