Episode 19: How to Find Your Next Killer Story Idea

It may be the most common question writers get: where do you get your ideas from? Today we answer that question, and learn how to turn those rough ideas into effective stories.

All stories—at least all GOOD stories—come from a simple “what if” question. On this episode of the podcast, we reverse engineer the WHAT IF? questions behind some of the best-selling stories of all time, and then turn things around to discover how we can create great story ideas from our own WHAT IF questions.


Brad mentioned a list of top-selling books of all time on the show. You can find that list here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_books

You can find out more information about the books and other resources Brad mentioned below:

Brad brainstormed a list of WHAT IF questions on the show (some good, some terrible!):

  • What if a teacher got amnesia and couldn’t remember anything about her subject but didn’t admit it to anyone?
  • What if your teacher was actually a mafia boss in the witness protection program?
  • What if an art teacher suddenly went blind?
  • What if a teacher won hundreds of millions in the lottery but didn’t want to stop teaching?
  • What if a teacher in a small conservative town came out as transgender?
  • How would a teacher’s class change if she found out she only had a year left to live?
  • What if the President of the United States was required to teach one year of school before taking office?
  • What if computers legally replaced all teachers and they had to start teaching underground?
  • What if a fascist government required the teaching of a propagandist curriculum but one teacher was bold enough to fight back?


“If you want to write, you can. Fear stops most people from writing, not lack of talent. Who am I? What right have I to speak? Who will listen to me? You are a human being with a unique story to tell. You have every right.” – Richard Rhodes

If you have a favorite quote about writing, I’d love to share it with the show’s listeners here on the podcast. Go to www.BradReedWrites.com and click the Talk to Us link to find out how. You could even leave us a voice message and hear your voice on a future podcast!


Our weekly challenge this week is to do a WHAT IF brainstorming session like we described in the podcast. Really give it some time. The best ideas are almost never the ones that come spilling out onto the paper first. They come after a run of terrible ideas that lead you somewhere new and exciting. One word of warning here, though. There is such a thing called the “shiny object syndrome.” This is when you come up with a new idea for a story that feels more exciting or somehow better than the one you are working on–it’s “shinier.”–so you abandon your current work-in-progress for it. This is a subtle and pernicious form of procrastination and resistance. Please don’t use the WHAT IF brainstorm if you are actively working on another story. Instead, I encourage you to write out a WHAT IF question for your current work-in-progress. This will do a couple of things. First, it will confirm and solidify the core of your story and make it more apparent what you’re trying to do with your story in a way that will help keep it focused and intentional. Secondly, and more painfully, you might discover that there’s no “there” there. It might be that moment where you have to ask yourself, “what a minute–what IS this story about?” While that’s a painful question that may result in a lot of rewriting, it’s a vital realization to have before you put any more time into a story that might not be working as well as it should be.