Tag Archives: Ideation

The Power of “What If. . .”


I always have ideas for new writing projects—especially when I’m up to my elbows rewriting. My brain would much rather be working on the next shiny thing than polishing up my works-in-progress.

How do I generate ideas?

Most of my fiction ideas come from wondering “what if. . .” Like, what if a teenager discovers a unicorn living in the woods behind her house? What if a woman recognizes a missing girl as someone she’d seen in a recurring dream? What if the new girl in school decides to make friends by running for class president?

Please don’t steal my ideas—I’m working on all of these right now.

Instead, think what if. . .

Sometimes it helps to start with random elements: a setting, a character, a situation. Make lists of these things. Mix them up and see what happens.

Or here. I’ll make it easy for you.

Pick one item from column one, one from column two, one from column three and one from column four and see what happens. You may have to finagle a little.

What if . . .

a carbuysa peanutbut it’s illegal.
a bearspanksa gloveand it catches fire.
a doctoreatsan atombut there’s an earthquake.
a garbage collectormakesan unknown virusand turns it into an empire.
a life guardformsa corporationand becomes very popular.
an insurance salesmanfollowsa hospitalbut an evil twin ruins it.
a horsebreaksa mermaidand it turns into gold.
a dogstealsa cellphoneand the same day keeps repeating.
a teacherinventsa cityand starts a trend.
a computer programmercooksa homeless personbut forgets where it is.
an astronautdrawsa calendarin the midst of a snowstorm.
a helicopterpretends to bean elevatorbut there’s a snake in the basement.
a zombiemortifiesgasolinejust as World War III begins.
a rabbilosesa joggerand falls in love.
a pregnant womanbuildsmoneyand becomes the next internet sensation.
a teenaged boylovesbooksand gets transported into a parallel universe.
my left shoefindsa rock bandand stumbles into a robbery in progress.
an armysellsa clarinetbut the warranty expired.
an elephantruns intoa backpackwhile acting as a Russian spy.
the presidentalienatesa nunwho turns out to be their birth mother.

Now it’s your turn. Use this idea generator to come up with a story line. It doesn’t have to adhere strictly to the four items you chose; let your imagination take you where it will. Write a piece of flash fiction or a short story. Post it on your blog or on social media, and include a link below. Or, better yet, submit it to a contest from the Poets and Writers database and tell us about it. (Good luck!)

In the Meme Time: Ideation