A Novel Idea: Story Ideas As Chinese Take-Out

Ninja Writer Academy is a weekly series. Every Saturday morning, I post a lesson here. You can do the work, then come share it on our Facebook group. I’ll be on Facebook on Sunday for Office Hours so we can discuss the lesson, or anything else writing related. If you’d like to join the Academy and get an email on Saturday with a link to the lesson, plus notification when Office Hours start, Click Here.



There are a couple of questions that I get asked very regularly. Maybe the top of that list is: where do you get your ideas.

It’s a pretty standard question that authors everywhere get, I think. The answer is, of course, that ideas come from everywhere. They’re literally laying on the floor.

I think that one skill a writer has is the ability to notice those ideas and pick them up.

Ideas, for me, are generally a combination of three things: a character, a setting, and a situation. Someone, somewhere, doing something.

A lonely boy, in England, who goes to wizarding school.

An unhappy girl, in Kansas, who is sucked up into a tornado and deposited in a magical world.

An orphaned boy, on a moisture farm, who becomes a Jedi.


So here’s what I do. I have three running, ongoing lists. One for characters. One for settings, one for situations. When something occurs to me–I see a news story about an interesting person or I visit a place or I get a random ‘what if’ idea–I write it where it belongs on my lists.

And then, sometimes, I just start playing around. I take one from column A and one from column B and one from column C, just like ordering Chinese take-out, and I see how they mix. If I’m intrigued, I go through the How to Develop + Test a Story Idea process to see if it’s got merit and can hold up a whole novel.

I spent a lot of years living on the edge of panic. I’d get one idea and start writing it, and constantly be afraid that this might be my last good idea. What if I never, NEVER had another one? Having a stable of developed ideas and a list of the bare bones of new ideas waiting in the sidelines, has taken away that anxiety.

My Turn

I spent all week going through H2DSI on our Facebook group with one of my ideas. You can read my assignments at these links.

Day one: Character

Day two: Setting

Day three: Situation

Day four: 5 Key Plot Points

Your Turn

Here’s your homework this weekend, Ninja!

Start your own idea factory!   Get out a notebook and start your lists of characters, settings, and situations.  Head over to Teachable and get signed up for H2DSI for free, it’ll walk you right through the process. Then, get started. Pick a character, a setting, and a situation. That’s all. Just one sentence: this person, in this place, did this thing.

Are you in this week? Leave a comment here and let me know. Ninja Writers are ALL about the big A word: Accountability. Post here that you’re going to be part of the Academy this week, then do it, Ninja.

Come by Facebook and share your idea sentence. I’m out of town this weekend, so no office hours, but I’ll be around Facebook off and on if you have questions.

Please share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, and spread the word about the Ninja Academy.

If you haven’t joined the Academy yet, you can click here to do that. It’s totally free–when you sign up, I’ll send you a link.

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  1. Shaunta – thank you so much for this post and sharing your H2DSI examples to read through. It really helped me work through my own assignments and see where the holes are!