1001 Story Ideas to Overcome Writer’s Block

Updated on January 8, 2018
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

I teach creative writing to adults and I love helping my students improve their writing skills.

Take a moment and re-energize your writing.
Take a moment and re-energize your writing. | Source

What is Writer’s Block?

Usually, a writer finds words flow onto the page without any problem. However, sometimes this stream of creatively is lessened or may even dry up completely. This is known as writer’s block. There can be many causes; overwork, bereavement, or illness to name just a few.

If you experience a period of writer’s block, try not to overthink the situation, but take steps to ease yourself back into the writing habit. There are a wealth of ideas and exercises to help you to get started on a blank page. This article focuses on a method that uses an old story as a prompt for a brand new one.

Watch This If You Have Writer's Block

Traditional Folk and Fairy Tales

There is a strong oral tradition of story-telling in many cultures. As each generation retells an old fable or folk tale it changes slightly to suit the audience and cultural fashions. To get your brain in story-telling mode and moved on from writer’s block, choose your favorite traditional tale and reimagine it to suit your own times. You could take any story taken from any culture or century.

A good source of inspiration is the “1001 Tales of The Arabian Nights” in which Scheherazade tells thrilling and inventive tales to please the King and save her life. The best-known stories from this collection are Aladdin and Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, but there are hundreds more to browse through. As its title implies, this book will give you 1001 stories to use as your springboard away from writer's block.

I also like “The Classic Treasury of Aesop’s Fables” as a source book for story ideas. The tales often have birds and animals as their protagonists and usually have a moral ending to emphasize a life lesson learnt. To help you understand this reimagining writing technique, I have used one of these stories in the example below.

Aesop’s Fable about the Wind and the Sun

The sun and the wind argued. The sun claimed to be stronger because she warmed the whole world. The wind said his power could overturn great ships. They decided a competition would settle the matter; whoever could make a man remove his overcoat would be the strongest. The wind blew with all his might. But the harder he blew, the tighter the man held onto his coat. The sun then took a turn. She shone brightly and gently and very soon the man felt the heat of the sun. And so he removed his coat.

— Aesop

The original tale dates back thousands of years and was popularized by the storyteller Aesop in the 1st Century. The fable is structured as a simple story so that its conclusion can be understood by everyone. The moral of the tale is that gentleness and persuasion can be more powerful than threats and force.

The wind is trying to remove this guy's coat.
The wind is trying to remove this guy's coat. | Source

Change Key Items But Retain the Plotline

The aim of this exercise is to keep the overall plot of the fable the same, but to change a key characteristic of the story. In this way, a completely new tale is created.

For example, you could change the viewpoint of a story. The original tale of the sun and the wind is told from the viewpoint of the two protagonists. In my example below, I have reimagined the story from the man’s viewpoint. In this way, I have created a new and interesting story that still holds true to the original framework.

The Dream Competition by Beth Eaglescliffe

(A short story about a competition between the sun and the wind.)

The sharp cries of seagulls interrupted his dreams. George opened his eyes and looked around him at the crowded beach. "What a glorious day" he thought, and blissfully felt the warmth of the sun on his bare chest. He sighed contentedly.

The day had begun badly; grey, wet and miserable. Eventually the rain had eased and George had started to walk to the beach. There was a light breeze and he had pulled the hood of his waterproof jacket tightly around his face. Underneath he was wearing a thick wool sweater. As he walked, the cold wind grew stronger and stinging fingers of rain plucked at his layers. It seemed to follow him as he dodged between the beach huts to get shelter from its cold blasts. The weather was really wild and seemed more like deepest winter than fall, but he was determined that cold weather and icy rain would not curtail his walk.

George gritted his teeth and made his way to a sheltered cove out of the biting wind. He sat down on an old deck-chair to take a short rest. As he sat there, the warmth from the sun grew stronger. George removed his jacket and eventually took off his thick woolen sweater too. The deck-chair was comfortable and he dozed. In his dreams he heard the voices of the sun and the wind discussing him. The more he heard, the more he realized that he had been their plaything.

“Leave him be,” said the sun. “You know I’ve won the bet. It was my warm sunshine that made him remove his sweaters and start to enjoy the day." Eventually the sun and the wind got bored with arguing. The wind was exhausted and the sun's fire was dipping in the sky. George yawned and smiled to himself. “Give me gentle sunshine rather than violent thunderstorms every time” he thought.

The sun sets on an empty beach.
The sun sets on an empty beach. | Source

Create a New Story from an Old Legend or Folk Tale

Examples of Change
Try telling the story from the victim's viewpoint rather than from the hero's.
Move the tale from a rural location into a city; or from a grand mansion to a tiny apartment.
The manners and customs of the American Wild West are different from those of 21st century France.
Religion, ethnicity, sexual identity
Rework these and the actions and reactions of your protagonist will change.

The ideas for story changes given in the table above are just a few suggestions to get you thinking. There is no limit to how many changes you can make. The only thing that must remain after your rewrite is that the moral thrust of the piece remains intact. Your new story needs to retain just enough of a link with the old one so that it is recognizable as modern fable intended for 21st century audiences.

A Best-Selling Author's Trick to Overcome Writer's Block


Submit a Comment

  • annart profile image

    Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

    Great ideas for a story prompt! Your photo of Brighton Beach reminds me of many days spent around there - my old stomping ground. The trouble with that beach is that it's all pebbles (as you can see) unless the tide is way out; not great for bare feet!

    So thanks for the memories and thanks for these great suggestions. Great story too.


  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

    Hiya, what an interesting idea! love your take on Aesops tale, and something to think about when I am planning a new story! nell