Michela Tindera on Brainstorming Story Ideas

As editor-in-chief of Inside magazine, one of the first questions I always hear is, “How do you come up with all those theme ideas?”

Since we only come out four times a school year, it helps to pick a theme for each issue so that we have a way to organize and narrow the focus of our magazine’s articles under an umbrella topic that is unique and interesting for students (We hope!).

The tough part is actually coming up with these theme concepts. It has to be something that we’ve never done before, something that is broad enough that you can write about it for 30-ish pages, but compact enough that it won’t become overwhelming. (For example: “life” might be a topic that is a bit too broad.) It also needs to have the flexibility to be covered from all angles of the word. Like with the Future issue, we looked at sci-fi, science-y aspect of the world here, but also the immediate future of student’s relationships here on campus.

But how did I actually come up with these ideas? Well, it certainly wasn’t a quick decision. And this is where I think I could offer a bit of advice.Photo

Coming up with theme’s for Inside is kind of like coming up with story ideas for any magazine you want to work for. Sure, sometimes the perfect idea will hit you in the most random of places — driving around town, checking out at the grocery store, taking a shower (this is known to have happened before). But more likely than not, coming up with story ideas requires a bit of elbow grease. Here are a few tips:

1.                    Read A LOT. So you want to write a story about food? Then read every food blog and magazine you can get your hands on. Reading other people’s work helps give you a starting point for ideas of your own. While reading you should always be thinking, “What can I do to make this story my own?”

2.                    Be a good listener. What is everyone talking about? Yes, I’ll admit most of my roommates’ and I’s conversations consist of pretty mundane topics (and the Kardashian family), but look for trends in conversation. Relationships? Figuring out what to pack for a semester abroad? Ombre? If you know how to listen, you’ll find more than you think.

3.                    Make a list. Sure you’ve been thinking about story ideas for the past month, but have you actually sat down at a desk and wrote them out? Giving your full attention to this task helps more than you would think. And if you hit a roadblock, just start writing down words that come to your mind, let that stream of consciousness flow and eventually it will lead you to some new ideas.

This year I settled on Night, Future, Five Senses and Sweat. Pretty random, right? I came up with some of them on my own and some with the help of my brilliant staff, but I can say for sure that I used some of the techniques explained above. So I suggest you give them a try too! You might be surprised with what you come up with!