The Writing Life: Story Generator



Story Generator

By Michelle Janene

Sitting in a deli shop you stare out the window at the cars going by. Who are they? Where are they headed?

A mom going to the doctor to learn the results of the numerous recent tests run on her child.

A man rushing to meet his fiancé and not be late—again.

An elderly man driving home to an empty home after bidding his wife of sixty years good-bye for the last time.


A friend and I played this game one afternoon over lunch. She’d asked me where my ideas come from, because I always seem to be writing something.

Currently, I have two active WIPs (Works in Progress), four more started and two in the development stage. To date, I’ve never suffered from writers block. If I get stuck on one WIP, I work on another for a while. But I never leave the first one for long.

Ideas come from everywhere. It can be one line in a movie I’m watching that will send my mind gallivanting over some new idea. I once picked up a fantasy that so bothered me by its acts against women, I wrote my own novel to counter it filled with God’s truth on love, marriage, and the value of women. I can see a picture and think—what if? What if something was stuck in that image? How did they get there? What do they like about the place, and what is their worst nightmare? Who’s going to help them and how are they going to get home?

Sometimes my stories start with the very last line. My first release started that way. I am also often inspired by Bible stories. I write primarily fantasy with a little historical fiction, but the stories of the Bible are often a kicking off point. What would it have been like to be an Israelite at the time of the Babylonia conquest? Would I have been one killed? Would I have been left behind or taken to a foreign kingdom? Those thoughts trigger ideas that lead to events in my medieval fantasies all the time.

Once I have an idea, it plays in my head for weeks, even months before I have something to get in the computer. I find images on the Internet of people I think resemble my characters. I search out names. And then the fun begins. I start running scenarios.


Boy meets girl. What if they are from different classes of society when that mattered most? What if she was only a lowly slave and him a lord? What if she was in trouble? What kind of trouble? Family? Threatened? Sickness? What if she couldn’t be cured? What would the lord do? If he, helped—how? What if he stole her from another lord’s household—but only as a maid in his household? What if she secretly worked behind his back to restore his lost wealth and family name?

Both Donald Maas and James Scott Bell write about the need to raise the tension. Make it bad for your characters, and then make it worse. Then make it even worse.

What if after bringing the maid to his home, his mother—who was under her care—died? What if she fled his wrath, but he learned all the ways she had helped him and he wanted her back. What if she came back, but he still couldn’t see her as more than a maid? What if he put her in danger and she ran again?

Keep turning up the heat and asking what if. The more you run possibilities the more your story will grow, often in ways you never expected.

What if…?

Meet the Author


Michelle Janene lives and works in Northern California. Most days she blissfully exists in the medieval creations of her mind. She is a devoted teacher, a dysfunctional housekeeper, and a dedicated writer. She released her first novella Mission: Mistaken Identity in 2015. God’s Rebel came out in 2016, followed by Rebel’s Son and Hidden Rebel in 2017. She has been published in “Guide Post Magazine” and several anthologies. She leads two critique groups and is the founder of Strong Tower Press—Indie solutions for indie authors.

You can find her at Strong Tower Press, Turret Writing, on Facebook, Twitter, and on Goodreads.

You can read Michelle's column on the 3rd Tuesday each month here at Pandora's Box Gazette.


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