NaNoWriMo Boot Camp: 5 Story Starters

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp session 2: Story Starters. Only on #TheWritersaurus #amwriting #NaNoWriMo

Click here to see all the posts in the NaNoWriMo Boot Camp series.

The previous post in the NaNoWriMo Boot Camp series focused on knowing why you’re writing. Today’s post is about generating topics and story ideas. Guys, we’re going to talk about story starters.

What’s a story starter? It’s kind of like a writing prompt, but less specific. While a writing prompt might give you a line of dialogue or conflict, story starters ask you to use your mind and the things around you to generate these things for yourself.

One of the great things about story starters is that you can actually use them to both develop ideas you already have and generate new ideas from scratch. They’re very versatile.

The “what if … ?” method

This may be my favorite. The “what if … ?” method requires you to have a starting situation, so it’s especially useful if you already have an inkling of an idea that you feel needs to evolve more. It’s also really great for coming up with alternative history ideas.

All you do is ask yourself, “what if?”:

What if Hitler had won WWII?

What if I told this from the perspective of the king’s barber?

What if The Hindenburg hadn’t crashed?

Keep changing the idea one facet at a time until you arrive at something that you like.

“One Thousand White Women” is an alternative history novel written by Jim Fergus. In the 1800s, a Cheyenne chief approached President Grant, asking him to send them 1000 white women so they could intermarry and assimilate the two cultures.

The book method

For this one roll two dice twice. The first roll is for a page number, the second is for the line of text on that page. You can also just do the old “finger of god” technique–open to a random page and drop your finger down.

Your mission is to use the sentence your finger lands on somewhere in your free write.

The song method

Put your music player on shuffle mode and hit “next track.” Write a story based on the lyrics of the song that pops up.

the tarot method

It is October, after all.
Let me start by saying that I don’t believe the tarot has divination powers. I do, however, think the wide-applicability of its imagery prompts us to look at ourselves and our problems from different angles.

Whether or not you believe that tarot cards can predict our futures, there is no denying that they share a unique link with storytelling. Most spreads have character cards, conflict cards, setting cards, and resolution cards. The simplest spread, known as the “three card spread,” corresponds perfectly with traditional three-act story structure, and could easily be modified to apply to four-act story structure.

Interested in using tarot to inspire your story? I suggest starting with the celtic cross spread. Instead of thinking of the cards applying to yourself, think of them applying to your narrative. Don’t have cards? There’s a themed deck for every interest, most available on Amazon. There’s even a gummy-bear themed deck. The most popular is the rider-waite deck. You can also use the free digital deck at

I plan on doing a series on the tarot as a writing tool in the near future. So look forward to that!

the picture method

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, let’s hope so! For this story starter, you’ll want to find a random picture from your phone or an internet search, and use it as a writing prompt. Ask yourself, what is happening in this photo? What could be happening in this photo? If there are people pictured, who are they and why are they there? You might consider making a list of possibilities, and focusing on the most unique or interesting.

You might consider swapping photos with friends or other writers online for fun, if you don’t trust yourself to truly pick a random image.


These story starters can be used together or on their own.

What tricks do you use to think up unique and interesting story ideas? Let me know in the comments! And look for our next installment of the NaNoWriMo Boot Camp on writing prompts! 

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H. Duke
H. Duke writes fantasy, horror, and more. Her works include the weird west / urban fantasy serial mashup, Jeremiah Jones Cowboy Sorcerer and the Christmas horror collection, Things on the Shelf: Three Tales of Christmas Terror, as well as the forthcoming Pagewalker series. She wrote the first season of Jeremiah Jones Cowboy Sorcerer while living in Arizona with her husband, Giru, and a shiny black dog named Jupiter. To see what she's up to now, visit her website.

1 comment for “NaNoWriMo Boot Camp: 5 Story Starters

  1. September 28, 2017 at 2:18 PM

    Also, I’ve helped establish a new event—the Overnight Write-In—which I’ll host for the second year at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington this November for local NaNoWriMo participants.

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