"How do you come up with ideas for a story?" I have heard this a great deal lately, in fact, it happens to me at least a couple of times a week from clients.
One of the (I think) most common ways to come up with an idea is the "What if?" game. What if there was a zombie Apocalypse? (Resident Evil) What if a great white shark had a taste for human flesh? (Jaws) What if this world was just a computer generated reality and we were plugged into it (The Matrix). Of course, this isn't the only way to come up with an idea.
People watching is fantastic and something my writing group is looking forward to doing. Go spend an hour in front of Wal-Mart and watch the people heading in and out. You see someone and begin to wonder why they are smiling, or frowning, or whistling to themselves. If you have a mind like mine, its a reason that leans to the dark side. That man is smiling because he just got away with murder. Or that woman is frowning because she's come from the doctors office and she found out she's pregnant with twins and she hasn't had sex for six months so how the hell did it happen? Watching people can allow you to give them a history and a story that sparks ideas.
I love brainstorming with other like minded individuals. They don't have to be writing the same genre as you either. In fact, I had a brainstorm session with a gal today who writes mysteries. I write urban fantasy and yet we were able to get a really great idea together for her to start her novel. It took a forty-five minute walk and we had a portion of her story put together and all because we talked without restriction, kind of like free writing where there is no judgment, just words.
I have phenomenal dreams, ones that leave me gasping and sweating with the realism of the characters and situations. I have pulled from those dreams complete series, story lines and screenplays that are yet to be written. be sure to have a book beside your bed because as I'm sure you know, the dreams fade quickly and with them, the possibilities of a story.
Other peoples stories are also a great way to develop your own ideas. I do not mean taking Stephanie Meyer's sparkling vamps and throwing in a sparkling zombie and calling it your idea. I mean, listen to old people's stories, think about what would have happened if grandpa hadn't made it home from the war and maybe what really happened to him while he was on the front lines. Truth, life and fact are FAR stranger than any fiction you could come up with on your own. Use these stories as springboards and run with it. Just be sure to change grandpa's name!
These are a few ideas that I have used to begin my story lines. What do you use? All of the above? Or something entirely different?