A teenage boy loses his family to stormtroopers and decides to join the rebels, learn the ways of the Jedi, and avenge their deaths. (Star Wars)
A wise-cracking ogre goes on a quest to get his swamp back, and ends up with far more than he bargained for. (Shrek)
Two depression-era farmhands have a dream to buy their own land, until one of them can't control his own strength. (Of Mice and Men)
Where do these story ideas come from? Why do those writers decide to write those stories and not some others? I'm fascinated by the creative process and how decisions are made. Stories, of course, are all around us and the key for us as writers is to be aware they are all around us, tune in, observe, note, ruminate, and "suppose..."
And then write them down.
I run a variety of writing workshops and I'm consistently amazed at the quality of story ideas that a group can put together in a few days of being aware. Will they all turn into short stories or novels? Of course not. But when a writer has a dozen different story ideas in front of her, there most certainly will be one or two that stand out, that call to the writer's heart, that screams in her ear, "Pick me. I need to be written."
This post isn't about the steps you could take to come up with killer story lines (although I'm sure you've deduced that by now). These story ideas, no matter how diverse and seemingly unrelated, speak volumes about you and in particular, what you need to write. From science fiction to mysteries to thrillers to realistic fiction... they all point back to you. That's an awesome responsibility and obligation.
I think you already know the story that you must tell. It's the one you've been carrying around with you your entire life. (Don't believe me? As you read the preceding line, that story appeared again, didn't it? That's the one you need to write first.) No matter how many other stories you write over your career, it's that first one that is perhaps the most significant -- the one that says, "This is my voice, my story, my life, and all the pain and joy and fear and hope it carries." Write that one first.
So brainstorm, yes. Observe behaviour and read the headlines for ideas. Develop your story ideas. Then write the one that calls to you the most. You can usually tell which one this is because it's the one that raises your level of fear the most, the one that screams, "Don't write me, or else...". That's the one. Go write it.