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Ideas for at least one billion stories

Shortcut signWhen I was teaching English to tough classes of boys in Hackney (1971-6), some of them were sometimes stumped for ideas when it came to writing a story. They needed help to get over that first hurdle. Once they had an idea, they were fine…

So I ran an exercise where I got whole classes to write down the kinds of characters they liked to read about in stories. Once we’d done that, I asked them to give me a list of places they liked a story to go to. Then we did the kinds of situations that they found interesting; and finally, we made a list of all the incidental details that made their favourite stories fascinating – like silver daggers and Maltese falcons and treasure chests filled with pieces-of-eight…

We ended up with loads of characters, places, situations and incidental details. The challenge then was to come up with an intriguing way of choosing a character, a place, a situation and an incidental detail to spark off an idea for an interesting story. The more random the set the better: to avoid trotting out standard characters in standard places in a typical situation in a particular genre.

I describe this situation in my blog-post “Was that true?” which you can find in the ‘Thoughts’ section of this website. On that occasion, it led to me writing the story that impressed Penguin enough to make them want to publish my first-ever collection of Stories – The Ice Warrior and Other Stories – in 1976.

Ice Warrior hardback cover compressed

The outcome was the Ideas for at least a Billion Stories booklet which hundreds of children have since found useful whenever they’ve been stuck for an idea. I offer it to you now in the post with that title, which you can find by clicking on the box below. Do feel free to copy the JPEG images and print out a copy for yourself.

Maybe you’d like to get a bunch of friends together and make a billion stories booklet of your own. You could suggest it as a useful exercise to your teacher of English and see if s/he would like to take it on. If anything like that actually happens, do email me at and let me know. I’d love to see what you came up with.