An Excerpt from Story Sprouts 2013 (Sample Exercise)

Exercise Five: Shopping for Story Ideas


Now that we’ve discussed how stories are generated—through our senses, experiences, and emotions, surely you are ready to sit down and write your story.

Not quite?

The next exercise is designed to help you train your brain to generate story ideas, even when you have very little time, inspiration, or opportunity to write.

During the Writing Day workshop, we discussed the aforementioned sources for story inspiration, but knew that in the spirit of the moment, it was unlikely a mere discussion about those sources would suffice. The writers featured in this anthology would need a little extra dose of inspiration to create a story ripe for publication (in a single afternoon), so to assist in idea generation, we used a technique called “Shopping for Story Ideas.”

We provided three boxes of inspirational materials. In the first were photographs of stores from around the world. In the second were different character types, and in the third were conflicts. Writers started with two photos, then reached into the conflicts and characters boxes for additional inspiration as needed.


To prepare for this exercise, you will need:

*Photos of stores** (included in this book)

*Character types (included in this book)

*Conflicts (included in this book)

*Laptop or pen(cil) and paper



**If you are doing this exercise at home or with internet access, you may google “shop” or store” for additional images. This book contains several photos from MorgueFile, a free photo sharing site for creative types.


The Rules:

  • Set a timer for 15 minutes.
  • Pick one to two photos from the options provided.
  • Spend a few seconds looking at the photo(s).
  • Brainstorm story ideas.
  • If a brainstorm does not come, proceed with character types and conflicts, and then put your character and/or conflict into the store setting from your photo.
  • Jot down your story ideas.



If you are not inspired by a photo, character, or conflict, change. But change quickly so you don’t run out of time.

Do not edit your brainstorm. Allow the ideas to flow, no matter how weak or strong they resonate in your mind.

This is not the time to write a story. Limit your ideas to one to two sentences. The story will come later.

Try not to follow any one train of thought for too long. The idea here is to generate a lot of ideas, much like the free writing exercise.

Since it would take you more than 15 minutes to browse all the photos and read through the character and conflict lists, you may want to close your eyes and point to one to two items on each list. Once you have finished the exercise, feel free to go back and read through the lists.


Exercise 5A: Photos

Thank you to the Morgue File contributors for the following photos of international shops.



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