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Here’s how to have an endless supply of story ideas. Brilliance from The Second City Theater.

There I was, sailing along. Writing, writing, writing. In the creative flow like a muther.

Until I wasn’t anymore. The ideas were as rare as as ice cream truck in December.




No matter what I tried to write-it all sucked.

I recently studied at The Second City comedy theater in Chicago. I learned a ton from them about how to be a comedic genius in a constant state of flow. OK, not exactly. But I did learn a ton about how to help it along.

The first thing I want to tell you about is how to get ideas. This brainstorming tip I have for you is BRILL-IANT. No more barren, boring, terrible writing ideas for you.

This technique generates a good amount of ridiculousness which takes so much pressure off. It takes your normal brain patterns and shakes them all up creating some delicious story options.

Second City’s #1 secret for endless story ideas

This is called the “pad set.” Improvisational actors use it to generate material. They collaborate with a live audience to fill in the 4 boxes, then they create sketches based on these prompts.

Here’s how you can adapt it for your own writing:

Draw a line down the middle of your page horizontally. Draw another one through it vertically. You’ll have 4 boxes.

In the first box, make a list of 4 or 5 relationships:

      2 firefighters, truck driver and hitchhiker, mother and son, cop and criminal, 2 people on a first date, etc.

In the second box, make a list of items you’ll find in a junk drawer

      birthday candles, extension cord, spare change, an ice pick, twist ties, etc.

In the third box, make a list of places that would fit on a stage

      jail cell, front porch, hot tub, bus stop, photography studio, etc.

In the fourth box, make a list of current events or happenings

      presidential election, bad storm last night, Eva Mendes’ pregnancy, the Oscar’s, new restaurant that just opened, etc.

Pick 1 item from the relationship box and 1 from one of the other boxes.

      2 firefighters at a photography studio,  2 people on a first date and the Oscar’s, truck driver/hitchhiker and birthday candles, etc.

This is your starting point.

You could write a story about 2 firefighters in a photography studio for a firefighter of the month calendar shoot.

You could write a blog post called “What Eva Mendes and Ryan Gosling Baby Announcement Can Teach You About Launching.”

You could write a personal essay about a terrible first date and use a porch as the setting for one of your scenes.

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9 Responses to Here’s how to have an endless supply of story ideas. Brilliance from The Second City Theater.

  1. Hollis July 21, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

    Despite all my resistances — such as: What is this for anyway? How could comedy improv relate to my business writing? — I tried it. I found myself wanting to stack the deck by tailoring the “boxes” to relate to my work. Which just seemed gutless. What I came up with was a very dark poem about an argument between me and my neighbor that reflected on the war in Gaza. Not something I want to share here, but it showed me how much I am affected by those who live near me, how willing to defend my turf I can be, and how pointless retaliation is. This exercise is “wurf it”, as we say here in Philadelphia.

    • Sarah July 22, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

      I love that. So funny how you wanted to stack your own deck. Writing about retaliation, how we are affected and our willingness to defend turf totally relates to business, if not immediately. Love.

  2. Jano July 21, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

    I love this idea! Thanks for sharing it and your inspiration!

    • Sarah July 22, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

      xo Jano!

  3. rebecca@altaredspaces July 21, 2014 at 5:04 pm #

    I love how you keep yourself inspired. More than the idea itself, I’m inspire by the way you feed yourself.

    • Sarah July 22, 2014 at 1:39 pm #

      Second City was so, so nourishing Rebecca.

  4. Carla July 22, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    Great idea to get the creative juices flowing. Love it! It’s a wonderful jumping off point and as everything is connected to everything else, it’s fun to find those connections!

    • Sarah July 22, 2014 at 1:39 pm #

      I know! the crazy ass connections are so fascinating. Akin to when we do metaphor work.

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