As a kid, I was making up stories about Indiana Jones and Han Solo having adventures with me. (I have a thing for Harrison Ford, OK? Who doesn't?!) They would always end with making out, cause as a kid I didn't know what the fuck sex was. I just knew I wanted to be kissed by them, desperately. And it was never just Harrison Ford... it was always Indiana Jones and Han Solo. Those movies were so compelling to me, and they fired me up.
I used to write pages upon pages of Transformers fanfiction, but I didn't know it was fanfiction. I had never heard the term. (And yes, I'm a girl in RL, but dammit, boys had all the cool toys. Screw Barbie) I would make up stories about going on adventures, and racing around in transforming cars. It was pretty bitching.
When I got to college, I got into role-playing games (haha, not sexual, sadly). Not only did I get into RPG's, but I was almost always the one running them. I would come up with a scenario and present it to my players, easily slipping into the roles of the NPC's (Non-Player Characters), each with a different voice and mannerism. I would plot out elaborate schemes for the villains (and always be sad that they lost, but c'est la vie, such is the life of a villain), and cheer when my players defeated them. And I made it hard as fuck too, because fuck handing shit to people on a plate. Who cares about that? We want conflict! Drama!
The older I got, the more into writing I got. I'd always been a writer...but when I found out about National Novel Writing Month, that was the deciding factor for me to try my hand at actually writing. I still remember my first novel. I was waaaaay too practically minded: the heroes' big idea? Running away. Why? It was the smart thing to do. I still need to go back and wrestle something decent from that train wreck. I kept on. I joined a writing site and started polishing short stories. I began to think, "Hey, maybe I shouldn't have gone to college for geology... writing seems to be my game." Ah, if only I had known back then. However, one of my favorite lines (and my best friend agrees) that I ever wrote came from that train wreck, "A California cool hung about him, like a surfer gone wrong." It evoked a specific and powerful image in me.
Now that I'm churning out story after story, these skills I learned throughout my life are being put to the test. One of the number one questions a writer is asked is "How do you come up with your stories?" My answer is always the same. I shrug and say, "I dunno. I pull them out of my ass."
However, that's not quite the truth. I have a process, and while it may be weird, it works for me. My process won't exactly work for other people, because my brain is too busy. I have to get these ideas out somewhere, because otherwise my brain will just keep filling up with ideas for stories. Stephen King talks about having an idea and putting it in a closet. He says it's a good idea if, when he checks the mental closet, it's still there. Sometimes it's just an image, or a title, or a character... but every story starts with a nugget of an idea, that first generating seed of creativity.
Well, how do you make yourself be creative? Believe it or not, it's a skill, like any other. Somewhere along the lines of all this pretending, I taught myself how to come up with ideas. Brainstorming is a very valuable activity, and it can help you in not just writing, but coming up with solutions to problems in general.
The first thing is to write down what interests you. I'm not talking about, "Oh, I like ponies, and horror movies, and cats..." but rather, when you see an image on the television, or in real life, that strikes you as evocative... write it down. When a phrase or a set of words pops out at you... write it down. If the general idea for a story comes to you, write it down. It could be anything. I've a folder on my google docs page where I create documents which have titles like, "Weird water elemental play on words wet pussy?" Like, I know there's something there with a pun or an entendre, but I'm not quite sure what it is yet. Last Night started out as "Vampire kills lover" story. That was it. Granted, it's not as explicit as 'play on words wet pussy', but I knew what I was talking about. I'd had a vision of a vampire reaming someone from behind, and she looks in the mirror... and well, read the story to find out. I wrote just enough down to make sure to trigger that again in my head.
When I went and revisited the document for Last Night, I thought, "Well, jeez, it's her last night on earth... hmm." That's where I got the title from. Then, I started thinking, "What if the vampire mentions he saw her last night... that would be a double play on the words. I saw you last night, but it's her last night... DER HUR HUR" (never said it was my strongest idea, lol). So, then, since I was aiming for a more "traditional" vampire story, I thought about Dracula and how he was outside Lucy Westerna's window, and called her out, but later she let him in. From there, it was just a matter of filling in the sex and the horror. That was my entire process.
It's most important to keep those ideas close, and let them filter through your head. You might find that, yeah, it disappears from your mental closet, but you might also find that Idea A and Idea C would work pretty well together.
The second thing is to remember: nothing is off-limits. EVER. That was the downfall of my first novel... I kept thinking about practicality, and how I would do it. Hence, they ended up running away. Not exactly action packed or even interesting. Yeah, what if your computer came alive and ate your brain? What if your cat is secretly plotting to take over the world? (Hahah, I have a story I keep meaning to write about that. "Mr. Wiggles". Heh) What if there's a werebuffalo next door? What if there's a living tongue that molests you in your sleep? ("Tyrone's Tongue". Go. Google it now.) You have to remember what it was like to be a kid and play. I fantasized about Indiana Jones... not Harrison Ford. I thought I could go on adventures too. Well, being a kid from buttfuck nowhere, yeah... not going to happen. At best, we went to the city. Ooooh. It doesn't matter what it is, how ridiculous it is... it could happen in a book. That's why we're reading them. Just look at all the entertainment people consume! Television, movies, books... we're hungry for entertainment. Those writers don't limit themselves. Take the Walking Dead for example. The comic is pretty bitching... and doesn't shy away from the hard to read things. The writers take their imaginations to some pretty fucking dark places. Michonne is repeatedly raped by the Governor, and in revenge, she basically ends up torturing him and nailing his dick to a board before cutting it off. Way fucking darker than the TV show, that's for sure. Kirkman didn't limit himself saying, "Yeah, that's too much." He just fucking went for it.
This post isn't about publishing or making something people will buy. There's tons of other places out there to find info on that. This is about letting your imagination go free, to go wherever it wants to, and seeing where it leads you.
That being said... I sometimes have trouble coming up with ideas myself. My husband has recommended the basis for all the Janus Key novels. When I whined I couldn't come up with a title, he sat down and wrote out fifty or so. "Rump Raiding Raptors" was first "Raptors Raided my Rear" ... or maybe "Raptors Ravaged my Rear". Through work with my illustrator, the title changed and evolved. However, I took that kernel of an idea he presented--just the title, nothing else--and sat down and went, "Ok, so... a world about raptors..." and brainstormed. Before I wrote down a word, I thought about how would someone get to a world like that? Are they cavemen? No, not exciting to me. Are they normal people? Yeah, I like that. Are they actual dinosaurs? No... but what if they evolved like humans? Yeah, I like that... so... how does a normal person get to the dinosaur world? MAGIC, THAT'S HOW. And so on. By the time I had finished coming up with the plot, it wrote itself.
So, take inspiration from movies and television or other books. If an idea strikes you as something you like, that evokes an emotion in you, grab it. Write it down in your idea pad. When you come back to it, try to identify what you like about it, and then what would make it an exciting twist. Don't limit yourself. I spend a ton of time every day as I go about my daily tasks just thinking about books, thinking about what I would like to write. No concrete ideas... just stuff that appeals to me, no matter how ridiculous it is. It's when you come to sit down and plot it out, outline, write, and edit that you can bring it down to something more "realistic".