Finding Ideas by Allison Symes

I was amused when a writer (whose name I can’t recall), when asked where they got their ideas, retorted with “from a store called Ideas R Us”! I wonder if the questioner tried to Google Map that...

Putting a story together has similarities with solving a jigsaw. Have you got all of the pieces in place? Have you got them in the right order? Pixabay


Different writers have various ways of finding ideas and routes in to starting that next story, blog post etc. 


Finding Ideas is one thing. Working out which are the most promising is another matter! Pixabay image.

For fiction, I outline characters and ideas emerge from there. I work out what I must know about a character I want to write up and use a template. I need to know major traits and from those I get an inkling of the situation where those traits would be an asset or a nightmare. Both work well. 

A pompous character can be sent up or brought down after all. They, of course, don’t think they’re pompous and that especially lends itself well for humour. Think of the marvellous Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army.


When your brain fizzes with ideas, write them all down. Re-evaluate them later. Pixabay image.

For my blogs, I focus on what I think people will find useful. I also use events in the calendar to write about or tie a theme to (for example, I always share festive flash fiction on Chandler’s Ford Today towards the year end).

The biggest influence on finding ideas comes from what you have read and what you are reading now.

The bigger the pool you read from, the greater the expanse your subconscious mind has to “fish from” when you’re happily creating your own work. We are all influenced by what we read/have read. 


Recharging your sources of ideas is crucial. The fun thing is the best way to do that is to read widely. Pixabay image.

I mix up what I read with this in mind. At the moment I’m focusing on non-fiction books. I’ll move on to a novel after that probably. When I’m not sure what to read next, I delve into short story and flash fiction collections. I read online. I read in print. I read magazines. All the time useful snippets are being tucked away in my great imaginative filing cabinet.

As an idea comes to life when I’m outlining my character, something I would’ve read recently or years ago, will return to the surface and trigger an idea. I don’t know how that process works. All I know is it does. So read away!


Whether you read hardbacks, paperbacks, on a phone or any combination, reading is by far the best way to develop your own imagination.  Pixabay image.

Even reading things you don’t like works here. You can look at why a story didn’t work for you and then use those thoughts to help you avoid making the same mistakes.  

Books of proverbs can be a wonderful source of ideas for themes and titles. (I’ve used them for both, sometimes for the same story).  

I’ve found, when several ideas come, the best thing is to work on something else for a few days. Then look at those ideas. Do they still seem as good? Which one has the most impact and why? Go for that. It will be the one you’ve got the most “heart” to write up and that will come through in your writing. Readers can tell when writers have really enjoyed writing the story, which is what you want. 

The finest way I know to feed my imagination is to read. There should be one or two things here that will suit me well! Pixabay image.


  1. I love your last line, Alison - 'Readers can tell...' I'm sure that's especially true of the best stories, and especially true of ones written for children! Imagine writing the Alice books, the Hungry Caterpillar, or Swallows and Amazons - to name a few - imagine creating and launching
    Narnia or Middle earth!

    1. Many thanks, Clare. And the breadth of vision for Narnia and Middle Earth is simply amazing.

  2. Ah yes, the great imaginative filing cabinet! How right you are. We need to fill it up and then we have a treasure trove from which to draw. Agreed - pricking the balloon of pomposity makes for great humour. Captain Mainwaring, Frasier, Niles - the list goes on.

    1. Thanks, Ruth. I suspect my imaginative filing cabinet could do with a good tidy up to be honest!

    2. Really interesting, Alison. I never write character profiles or anything like that. I just 'see' and 'talk to' them in my mind or watch them as if they're on a TV screen and describe what I 'see' . Funny, isn't it? We're all so different. Your way of doing things is much more thorough, however!

    3. Many thanks, Deborah. As a flash fiction writer, I'm coming up with characters all the time so I needed a way of knowing I could always do that. My template method helps so much with that.

  3. Wow Allison - this is a great nudge - I can tell you enjoyed writing it!


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