Guest Post By Todd Russell: Where To Get Story Ideas

Hi all, and happy Friday! This is horror author Todd Russell’s fifth stop on his blog tour, so without further ado… here’s Todd:

Greetings and salutations friendly folks at 21st Century, I appreciate the chance to stop here on the fifth day of my blog tour. Ania asked me to write about where to gather story ideas.

We’ll drive there in a minute, but first let’s cover writing exercises and how important they are and compare to something Ania wrote about recently in her post: Why I Don’t NaNoWriMo: A Cynic’s Perspective.

I tried NaNoWriMo in 2004. I also bought the book No Plot No Problem by the guy who started it, Chris Baty. Drank the juice, primed the pump and hacked the literary trees.

Mr. Baty’s concept is useful and has executed it well as a group writing exercise since 1999. He addressed many of Ania’s post concerns in his book and I think he would be the first to admit that NaNoWriMo is the first step in a greater process. His premise for NaNoWriMo was to help motivate all those people who say “I wish I had time to write a novel.” To get these dreamers to take specific action and use word count as a measuring stick to their progress.

In this sense Baty started with a good premise. You can’t write if you don’t, well, write. You have to put something on the page. Whether it’s good or not comes later when the editing hat is worn. That doesn’t mean if you sit down all day long and type nonsense that you’ll write the next Great Gatsby or runaway bestseller, but you won’t get anywhere if you don’t somehow download the dreams from your brain onto digital paper.

Baty’s thinking is that if you crank out 50,000 words in a month chances are good you’ll turn out at least something good. Maybe it’s only one good scene or character sketch. Something you could use someday, somewhere.

Reality for me: I produced 35,000 words in 20 days and got sidetracked. Never made the goal but I know if I had kept focus I could have. This is coming from a writer who had already written and completed several novels 10+ years before taking the NaNoWriMo challenge.

I had never written the first draft of any completed novel in 30 days. I see where Baty was going with the exercise and I think it could be worthwhile for some writers. I stop short of saying all writers because some of reading this don’t need any exercise to jump start the brain download process. I didn’t need it either but thought it would be fun to get involved. Plus it gave me something to blog about.

I haven’t gone back and looked at the work since but my guess is it’s one of those dead trunk stories. I could probably find something in there worth cannibalizing but if the work wasn’t strong enough to attract me at any point in the last seven years the material can’t be that strong.

So that’s me agreeing with most of Ania’s post, not in theory — because she hadn’t ever tried NaNoWriMo — but in real application. I was there, tried it, and what did my one time participation help me produce any publishable material to date? Nope. Was it worth the time spent? Yes. Huh? What?

It was good exercise. Like a few rousing sessions at the gym or on the Wii Fit. Now do you lose weight by exercising a few times? Nope. You have to keep exercising, eat right and so on. NaNoWriMo has the ability to get some dreamers doing more than dreaming and that’s a step in a positive direction.

Where to get story ideas

Before you can sit down to write the next story you need the ingredients, the stuff to make the magic happen. The most important ingredient, to me, begins with the hook. The idea.

My problem isn’t coming up with ideas, I have tons of those. It is how to come up with fresh ideas. I think that’s what Ania was really asking me, as she seems like a sharp gal, is what’s the secret sauce for coming up with fresh ideas? Unless you’re somebody rare like Stephen King who has said that he doesn’t run out of good story ideas you’ve got some work to do.

1. Read, read, read

Reading a lot is one good way way. Become well read in the types of stories you want to tell. Explore, reach, find, enjoy, love and hate what other authors are doing — and no, I don’t mean just popular authors that everybody is reading — I mean read all different types of authors and stories within the genre(s) you are most interested in.

Find the kind of stories you like to read. That’s Robert McCammon’s goal. He wants to write the stories he likes to read. Simple and effective.

So now that you’ve gone out there and read, read, read — and did I mention read more? — it’s time to start watching the world around you for ideas. Things that you find interesting.

2. Explore your interests

You notice I didn’t say what other people find interesting? Only you know what interests you, so don’t let others influence what you like. There are different scrapbooking sites on the web and Google News by keyword can help to tune you into interesting happenings around the world. Heck, you can just make a gigantic list of keywords describing stories you like and then hit google them. You’ll be amazed what wonders Google returns.

3. Take pictures

Now don’t stop at the web. Get outside, take a walk, bike ride, drive, whatever. Get out of the house and take your digital camera with you. Shoot tons of pictures of places and things. Be careful when photographing people, unless you have their permission or unless it’s in a very public place and the picture doesn’t reveal their faces. I love looking at nature scenery pictures. It can help with visualizing places in your stories and drawing quick sketches for readers.

4. Manipulate, combine and experiment blending pictures digitally

If you happen to use Photoshop or other photo editing software that lets you do all kinds of twisted things with your photos (like warp and bending object) then you can make odd photo art like the one at the top of this post.

Yeah, pictures of a bunch of hands at the beach. What are they doing there? Why are they there and why is it all in black and white? I have several ideas for what they are doing. They are part of a story idea currently making the voyage from my brain to digital paper. Now you will remember where you saw the idea at an early stage. (I posted a larger version of the picture to my Facebook author page).

Bottom line: photographing and manipulating the photos can help generate ideas or perhaps better nail down an idea you might be thinking about.

There you go, a few ideas to get readers and you, the writer, thinking. I’ll stop here before I turn a guest blog post into a guest novella blog post. Like Ania, I too am curious how others find their fresh story ideas. What tips and techniques can you share? I’ll follow along in the comments with you. Thank you for reading.

Todd Russell started writing at a young age and has honed his bizarre style along the likes of Rod Serling, Robert R. McCammon, and Stephen King. Mental Shrillness, a collection of six twist ending horror stories, is his first book. An Amazon reviewer writes: “I was appalled … the stories are horrifying, disturbing and nauseating at times. I recommend Mental Shrillness to adult readers to challenge themselves on how strange a story they can handle.” You can follow Todd’s work at

To win your free copy of Todd’s book, visit all his blog tour stops and pick up all of Todd’s Mental Shrillness Blog Tour Factoids! At the end of the tour, score at least 75% on Todd’s factoid quiz to win your own copy of Todd’s six horror stories! The quiz will be on Todd’s website,!


6 thoughts on “Guest Post By Todd Russell: Where To Get Story Ideas

  1. Hi Ania – have you written about where you get your story ideas from yet (past post, guest post elsewhere, etc)?

    • Not yet. Maybe when I’m fancy enough to get my own blog tour like SOMEONE I know, I will. 😉

      • lol, fancy?! Please. I’m just an unknown writer out here beating the virtual streets. I’m about to do something evil to that bird in the sidebar though!

      • You leave my glarey-bird alone! I love him. He makes me smile every time I see him. He’s so ornery!

  2. For those following along with the factoids for the tour contest …

    #### que third person ###

    Mental Shrillness Factoid #5

    The city Medina, WA described as north of Bellingham, WA is briefly introduced in Mental Shrillness. This fictional city is used in some other stories, both earlier and later works. The author tends to use settings in the Pacific Northwest where he has lived most of his life.

    ### end third person

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