12 Weird Places to Find Story Ideas While in Your PJ's
Finding a story idea shouldn't be difficult—the world is full of so many stories! You could Google, “writing prompt” and find a million options. You could find a bunch of websites you really like that have direct prompts. You can even find prompts on Instagram. Perhaps you have some books of prompts, some blogs you follow, or a subscription that sends you a nice prompt every once and a while.
But sometimes those ideas just aren't inspiring you. What do you do if none of those are working for you?
You need the right prompts that work for you. And you need them on your time. You also probably don't feel like going out into the world and actually looking for them. (Or at least not today).
Instead, you're here, trolling the internet and avoiding your writing. But while you're doing this, you could also be gathering inspiring story data. And you can do this in the places where you're probably already hanging out. You've just got to turn your brain on and look for them.
Here are 12 online resources that you probably already use, but you’re probably NOT yet using them to cultivate the writing prompts that work for you when you need them most. Using these websites and apps as your prompt generator will lead to an infinite amount of story ideas which you can gather and collect for the next time the muse decides to skip out on you.
All from the comfort of your pajamas and your couch.
Let's check 'em out!
1 | Google Earth
I’m pretty sure we’ve all used Google Earth to see what our house looks like from way up high. (This was what I was most excited about it when it came out). More usefully, it’s perfect for navigating your trip from “here” to “there,” and now you can literally see the place where you’ll be ending up.
But it can also substitute as your travel guide to make your story’s setting incredibly realistic. With the amazing Google Earth, you can literally go anywhere in the world.
Writing a novel that takes place in the Ukraine, but can’t afford to travel there right now? Google Earth it. (Yes, I did just transform that into a verb, because we're making it a thing). And with the street view feature, you can “walk” around town, or the forest, or wherever, and see what it would actually be like. Of course it’s not as great as actually being there and experiencing the culture, but it’s a handy and effective way to research, and get inspired.
2 | The Secret Door
If you don’t have a place in mind that you’d like to better research, you can always spontaneously spawn to somewhere new and exciting, and see what your mind thinks about it. Cue, The Secret Door. This amazing app is basically a door that transports you to street view in Google Earth, somewhere beautiful and exciting, where you will immediately be greeted with an excellent setting to begin your next story.
Go have fun with it. Right now. This is one of my absolute favorite new things. In 10 minutes, I went to an awesomely glamorous cathedral, a thrift store (which was BEAUTIFUL for object prompts), a bar where I could literally see how they priced their American Honey and what their featured shot-of-the-day was, and a monkey park. (Yes, a monkey park—so cool! I “walked” down a trail and found monkeys hanging out in a natural bath.) And I did all of this in my pajamas.
3-7 | Social Media Sites: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and the Lovely Trolls
Sources 3-7 are all grouped into one section because while they are all different sources, they help you with 1 specific story goal: dialogue. You want your dialogue to be realistic, authentic. In order to do that, it should mirror real life. We should reasonably expect that what your character is saying is something that someone would actually say. To hone this skill, the common advice is to go out and people watch, recording the conversations you here. Because people say interesting shit. They say it all the time. We're just going to listen to them say this from the comfort of our couches, in our pajamas.
Go onto Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Reddit looking for the type of people that speak their mind f r e e l y, boldly, and do it often. (I’m sure you can already think of some good people that you know to look to for this). Read what they have to say. See if you can borrow one of their quotes (or the ideas of their quotes) for your character and your story.
Twitter is fantastic because people have to be short and sweet. Because you can only use 160 characters, you’ll often find brief, witty things that might be a perfect opening line. Don’t look through e-marketers, as you usually won’t find much. But try personal accounts, of people just talking like people talk. Look through conversations. Also, try Quote Catalog and #QuoteOfTheDay.
Facebook is fantastic for exactly the opposite reason. People can ramble and rant and explain their thoughts forever if they want to. They can comment back and forth with others. Some of my favorite ones are the posts that have 100+ comments of people rambling about nothing, and then you find that one gem.
Also, try HONY. The Humans of New York project is SO AMAZING for a million different reasons, but for your purposes, this is an opportunity to hear real people talk about real things in the words that make sense to them. This is a fantastic way to understand how people think, speak, and exist in the world.
People on Instagram write differently too. You're more likely to find journalistic free writes, where people are being vulnerable and detailed about emotions. This is an excellent source for trying to get inside a character's head.
What about Reddit?
You may also want to check out the variety of topics and opinions on Reddit. You can explore by ideas, popular topics, interests you have (or your characters might have). You'll find a lot of questions and answers, and a lot of fun, witty stuff. Reddit is punny. They say interesting things and they say it in interesting ways.
Reddit also has a section for writing prompts too, and it’s one that I don’t often see talked about for some reason. It’s updated daily, covers a wide variety of genres and topics, and allows you to get feedback, should you want to publish your response for others to see. You don't have to do any work—just go grab a prompt.
And you said something about trolls?
If you're looking for extreme opinions, find any controversial news article and read the comments. People go insane on the internet, if you haven't noticed, and harnessing some of that intense anger and passion may be the spark you need to understand your character's motivation for something.
Cool! How do I implement this?
Digging through social media can be tedious, but it also can be rewarding. It's kind of like thrift store shopping—you have to dig through a bunch of junk, but when you finally find that awesome piece (and it’s at a great price!), it’s all worth it.
You don’t have to use the words they’ve said word-for-word, and you probably shouldn’t. Perhaps they said it exactly right, but they more than likely didn’t. The beauty of being the writer is you can audit what they said. Take the idea and make it work for your character. Trim a few irrelevant words out of the quote. Grab only the pieces that work for you, and make them yours. It’s a fantastic starting place.
I can't find any good quotes. nobody says anything interesting besides reporting their lunch.
Try this: In every boring status or advertising you see, choose the best word. Do this again for the next one. These can be nouns, verbs, prepositions, it doesn’t matter. Just choose the ones that you’re drawn to in the moment. Do this until you’ve collected five or six words. Then, start your story using those. Or create an opening quote using all the words. (We’ll revisit this create-your-own-prompt later!)
8 | Pinterest
Pinterest is fantastic for great resources—like how to apply for jobs, the ultimate back-to-school checklist, and, most importantly, how to cook that delicious looking food. I use Pinterest mostly to catalog and curate the best articles I find on the web. But, I also like pictures of pretty outfits for fashion inspiration, dreaming about my future wedding, and designing a kick-ass house. (Don’t we all?)
But, Pinterest can be used for stories as well. We can use it in a couple different ways (even with those silly, but so important dreamer pins).
Create INSPIRATION BOARDS
This is perhaps the most common use for Pinterest story-inspiration. If you have a current work-in-progress, posting pics of what your main characters look like, the world they inhabit, scenes they may partake in will help you stay true to the idea you have in your head (and keep getting inspired).
You can also have boards for future stories, kind of as picture prompts all collected in one space. These boards might be inspiring male characters, female characters, knights and medieval times, beautiful oceans and beaches. Any character or scene that exists, or could exist in your story in the future, can have it’s own board to keep you excited and eager, and get you thinking when the wheels stop turning.
Use pins as a prompt—even the seemingly irrelevant ones
Anything can be turned into a story idea if you look at it the right way and ask the appropriate questions. Any pin (for real, any pin ever, pretty much) can be used as a prompt for your next story, even the irrelevant ones.
Think I'm crazy? Let me explain.
Let's say you see an image. Look at it and analyze it. Gather all the information you can from the image—you don’t even have to go to the page it links to to figure out what it’s “really” about, just use the image itself. There’s more to be uncovered in each image than you may think. Figure out the facts of each image, and ask yourself the questions that the facts can’t answer. Whatever the image consists of becomes the boundaries for your next writing session.
Let’s go through some examples:
Use Food: You have a food board. It’s where you keep all the recipes you’d love to cook one day. But it can also double as a story prompter. Remember, we want to ask 1) What do we know about the facts of this image? and 2) What questions should we ask that the facts can't answer?
What do we know about this image? This is a summer dish, best served as a dessert, or possibly breakfast. Best served with others (you couldn't eat this all by yourself, or you probably wouldn't want to).
What should we be asking? What kind of character cooks this dish? Why did they cook it? Some event, perhaps? Or they felt like surprising their significant other? Or they were trying to channel their late relative who always cooked it? Did they fail at cooking it? Did they do it better than before? Who will this dish be served to? What will it mean for them? What will the others who eat it think about it? Do they think it tastes good? Do they think the cook is doing it to prove she's amazing? To poison them? To delight them? To show love? What conversations do they have while eating this food?
Start your story here.
Use a person. There are so many pictures of people on Pinterest—in ads, demonstrating makeup or fashion, in quotes, at a wedding. These people can become our characters. We'll ask our 2 questions again:
What do we know about this image? This girl is old enough to wear heels. She is wearing a preppy outfit. It is likely summer because of the greenery in the background. She's dressed nicely, as if for an occasion.
What should we be asking? Why is she wearing what she’s wearing? What event is she going to? Who’s she trying to impress? Does she always dress like this, or just today? What does she think of everyone else’s outfits? How long did she take to get ready? What was “getting ready” like?
What do we know about this image? She’s looking away from the camera.
What should we be asking? Who is she looking at? Who is with her? What are they wearing? Does that matter?
Start your story here.
Use a Scene. Just like the people prompt, there are so many pictures that show people doing things. They could be working out, sitting at a cafe, or even just walking. These can be the start of a scene in our own stories.
What do we know about this image? It’s a wedding. They’ve already gotten married, and this is the reception. What should we be asking? How do they feel now?
What do we know about this image? The newlyweds are conversing with friends and family. What should we be asking? What conversations are they having? What are they saying?
What do we know about this image? They’re still in tune with each other (his arm around her, her hand on him), but they aren’t focusing on each other right now. What should we be asking? What are they paying attention to instead?
What do we know about this image? It’s not too warm or too cool outside (given that they’re outside and still wearing long sleeves), so it must be spring or fall. What should we be asking? How does this affect the scene?
Start your story here.
Find the setting. If you've ever looked up dream houses or planned a vacation via Pinterest, you've got a setting prompt. You know what to do:
What do we know about this image? It’s in a tropical-ish location (hence, palm trees). What should we be asking? How does this affect the characters who live here?
What do we know about this image?Whoever owns this house has some money, as it’s a nice house. What should we be asking? How did they acquire this wealth?
What do we know about this image?They also care about having a nicely manicured lawn. And they’re fond of symmetry. What should we be asking? What does this mean for who these characters are?
Start your story here.
Find the object. Whether a pin is advertising a product of you're looking up how to grow plants, things show up in Pinterest. These objects can be used with such a variety of characters, settings, and scenes. And utilizing your amazing detail and description writing skills, you can make this object be super significant to your story.
What do we know about this image? This is a very large picture of an octopus being hung in a house. What should we be asking? Who loves an octopus this much? And why?
What do we know about this image? As per the description, it’s actually a shower curtain being re-purposed as wall art. What should we be asking?What kind of character needs to get frugally creative like this?
Start your story here.
Pinterest is AMAZING for story ideas. You could spend the rest of your life finding prompts from here. When you look at pins from the right perspective and ask the right questions, you'll find yourself super interesting story prompts in no time at all.
You know how you just learned to analyze images on Pinterest? Take this back to Instagram too. As an image-heavy platform (one without ads or links within pictures usually), you'll find even more prompts right in front of your eyes.
9 | Any News Site Ever
Writers often write to capture and comment on what’s happening in the world. What better resource for your next story than what’s actually happening? You can look to big news stories to find some relevant, current facts as a plot to throw your character into. Pay attention to what's going on in your local news, national news, or world news. (I'm partial to Vice for mine).
If you’re looking for something more offbeat: Electric Literature collects some of the best, and weirdest headlines in a monthly section, plugging them as news that is “strange enough to be fiction,” and they are pretty fantastic.
Need something funny? And/or weird? Ever heard of, The Onion? Write a satirical story based on the plot!
Using your new Google Earth skills, you can also find an interesting place and then Google their news. Small town news is often weird and interesting, and having some distance from it will allow you to see it with a different perspective than a resident who lives there. Find a tiny town no one is talking about, and use their front page news as the basis for your next story.
10 | Watch Some YouTube or other videos
People also do weird things and record it. They're making the jobs of the writer so freaking easy. Watch some random videos on YouTube, or check out some curated ones on the daily show, RightThisMinute. These are full of funny, crazy, inspiring things that have actually happened in real life, a great inspiration to take back to your fiction.
Or, what story can you start from watching some of America’s Funniest Home Videos?
Taking what people have already done and then fusing it into your fiction is what good writers do. You've just got to look in the right places.
11 | Reddit Shower Thoughts
Another underutilized feature of Reddit (and I under-utilize it too) is the Shower Thoughts section. These are philosophical thoughts, weird questions, and interesting ideas—all of which is excellent material to run with in your next story. If you’re looking for an opening line quote (“Isn’t it weird that we all have a little voice in our heads, like the one you used to read this?”), a character quirk (“Every time I don’t play the lottery I win a dollar”), or even a whole world (what if people DID use pregnant spiders as grenades?), you can be sure that the Reddit Shower Thoughts will get your imagination working.
It's weird, funky, and actually really relatable.
12 | Your Email
If you want to create your own prompt, head to your inbox. I know it sounds entirely counterproductive to your creativity (inbox = creativity drain and productivity downer), but this will get you to start seeing the world as you know it in different ways.
First, go to your sent folder and take the first name of the last person you emailed.
Then, take the subject line of your most recent email.
Then, go to your junk folder (or any section of your email that contains annoying emails) and take 5-6 interesting, strong words, the kind of words that just pop out to you and set that headline apart from the others.
This is your prompt. Use all the words in your story. Go.
It’s so simple. You could do this anywhere. (And you should, if you're disciplined). But for the sake of your time and to get you writing right this second, just do it with your email. I guarantee it’s more interesting than you’d think.
To prove my point, I tried this out with two different emails of mine. And the results are pretty good:
Email 1: Name – Chris; Subject – canine influenza; Strong Words – barbecue, weekend, $120, moving, piggyback, detox
Email 2: Name – Jennifer; Subject – refund; Strong Words – welcome, wrong, training, first-time, doughnut, pick-up line
Giving yourself some arbitrary boundaries to guide your writing could be just the thing to spark your next story.
Prompts are everywhere. So stop wasting time by looking at your boyfriend’s friend’s cousin’s girlfriend on Instagram, and quit reading articles about what to wear to your next concert. Or at least document some helpful prompts while you do it.
I like to keep a running list of story ideas and prompts in my notebook to have on hand in case I get stuck. I know that if I sit down to write and I have to go to the internet for an idea, I'm going to get lost for hours, and the writing won't get done. But cultivating prompts and inspiration from the internet ahead of time allows me to have a page of notes I'm already interested in ready to go by the time I sit down to write.
Go through the options mentioned above at regular intervals to cultivate and grow your inspiring story ideas. Keep your list in your notebook as an easy reference. Your muse will thank you for it.
Where do you find inspiration for story ideas? What social media platforms or websites have you found story material before?