Ideation Mashup Exercise

Got an Idea?One of the most common questions that writers get is “Where do you get your ideas?” For SF and Fantasy, there’s also something of a perception that you have to have that single perfect idea before you can craft a good story.

Well, ideas are all over the place. You just have to look for them. And there is no singular idea that makes or breaks any story. In fact, it’s more truthful to say that speculative fiction stories arise from the juxtaposition of ideas, which is what this writing exercise is all about.

In this exercise, we’re going to do an ideation mashup to generate potential premises for stories.

Task 1: Choose 10 Films

Write down the names of ten movies (or TV shows) that have inspired you. They may, but don’t have to be, SF or fantasy movies.

Time Limit: 5 minutes

For example, my (abbreviated) list might include:

  • The Terminator
  • Hill Street Blues (though it’s aged badly)
  • Titanic

Task 2: Choose 10 Books

Write down the names of ten novels (or shorter works) that have inspired you. They may, but don’t have to be, SF or fantasy stories.

Time Limit: 5 minutes

To continue my example, my (abbreviated) list of books might include:

  • Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh
  • Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
  • Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Task 3: Mashup!

Now, match up your movies and books to see if any of the combinations resonate with you. Pick the top three combinations that you come up with.

Time Limit: 5 minutes

In my example, my mashups are:

  • Titanic and Downbelow Station: Disaster strikes a heavily populated space station around a human colony planet. As the disaster unfolds, it proves impossible to evacuate all of the people from the station.
  • Hill Street Blues and Swordspoint: A police procedural set in a medeival-like fantasy city.
  • The Terminator and Gone With the Wind: A killer robot is sent back to the Civil War to assassinate the ancestor of a future freedom fighter against an AI takeover of the world.


Ideation is simply a form of brainstorming. This exercise provides one technique for brainstorming story ideas in an organized way. Maybe this exercise generated a premise that will become the core of your next story. Maybe not.

Nevertheless, you’ve got a new tool in your Writer’s Toolbox, a new way to generate potential story ideas. Use it well.

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