Heart Breathings

The Best Way To Get Story Ideas and Inspiration: Great Ideas #2

April 22, 2021 by Sarra Cannon

Planning And Organization | Writing Tips

I’m a firm believer that your best ideas (and your best success) will come from stories you’re excited to write. Stories inspired by the things you naturally love writing the most.

Early in my career, I was introduced to the idea of creating a set of Master Lists in order to figure out what inspired me and why.

My Book of Master Lists

Watch the video here where I take deep look inside my new Book of Master Lists and talk about how making Master Lists for yourself can change the game when it comes to figuring out what stories to write.

Why I created a Book of Master Lists

My inspiration for this book came from Alexandra Sokoloff and her book, Screenwriting Tricks For Authors. You can find this book here on Amazon: (Paperback): https://amzn.to/2QEIlC1 Ebook in Kindle Unlimited: https://amzn.to/3gzgJcB

I owe a lot to this book and to Alex’s talks about screenwriting and story structure.

A “Master List” is basically just a list of things that you love or feel inspired by in the stories of others. Your Top 10 favorite heroines of all time. Your Top 10 scariest stories. Your Top 10 Favorite Must-Read Romances.

Each author will brainstorm their own set of lists, but this can be a powerful place to begin when you are trying to figure out what kind of story lights you up the most. What are you naturally drawn to in stories? These lists can include games, novels, TV shows, movies, manga, or whatever medium suits you best. (My lists are often a mix.)

How Your Master Lists Help You Analyze Story Structure

But there’s so much more to it than just making the lists. Once you have several lists in your favorite genres, you can take the books, games, movies, and other items on your list and begin to truly analyze what makes them tick. How did the creators of these stories elicit the feeling you loved about these experiences? How did they do what they did?

As you watch or read them with an author’s eye toward structure, you’ll begin to see patterns emerge. You’ll get a deeper understanding of what readers expect from certain genres or niches, how authors handle things like tension, suspense, mystery, romance, and more.

Craft books are great for understanding the technical side of the writing craft, but there is better way to get a true mastery of your craft and the genre you most want to write than to identify the stories that you love most and to analyze them.

Of course, this isn’t so that you can copy your favorites. Rather, it’s a way to draw inspiration from those who have gone before you. It’s also a way to get a deep and true understanding of what makes a genre tick, so to speak. How does it work? Why does it make you feel the way you feel?

Analyzing and pulling these stories from your list apart and looking at the story structure is incredibly valuable, as well. Take a few movies from your list (because movies are faster to get through than books, but you can do books, too if you have the time!) and see if you can identify plot structure. Where is the Act One climax in each story? The Midpoint? What’s the Black Moment?

Treat it like a game, and I promise you that you’ll gain more understanding of story structure from doing this type of research in the genre you’re wanting to write than you would from reading any book on craft.

My Book of Master Lists

Sokoloff’s idea of creating a Master List made a huge impact on me when I was a new author, but at the time, what I did was create my lists on random notepads. I kept my research and analysis inside whatever notebook I was using at the time. Notebooks that inevitably got recycled or thrown out over time.

I would give so much money if I could have access to all of those old notes now!

I can’t change the past, but what I have decided to do to build toward the future is to create a “Book of Master Lists.” This is a dedicated notebook that will now become the home to all of my genre master lists, my notes on movies and book analysis, my inspiration for new series, and more.

If you want to see a few examples of how I’m organizing this Book of Master Lists, head over to YouTube to watch today’s new video.

What I used for my Book

The notebook I’m using is a Miquelrius I got from Staples 14 years ago, and which is unfortunately no longer available. I did find one similar here on Amazon. (Comes in red or black).

My Amazon Storefront (With my favorite writing books and tools!): www.amazon.com/shop/heartbreathings

I got all of the stickers on my cover from random shops on RedBubble. Just search “Small stickers” for any fandom you love. They have tons from different artists!

Zig Clean Color Dot Markers are great for making little dots that are great for the lists bullet points.

Tombow Play Color Dot markers are another alternative for creating these dots.

These are the main supplies I’ve used, though all you really need is a notebook and a pen! If you’re more of a digital tech person, you might also love creating your Book of Master Lists inside Notion. I have a video on how i organize my writing life inside Notion that you can find here.

Follow your passions

I’ll have a video coming up in this series later all about how to choose between your best ideas and decide which one to write (and how to stick with it all the way through), but I believe with all my heart that if you start with things that naturally make you excited and inspired, you’re on the right track to success.

We hear a lot of talk about “writing to market” these days, and while it’s extremely important to understand marketing and reader expectations, I think a lot of writers are trying to force themselves to write something they’ve been told is “marketable.” (Even when they don’t really enjoy reading or writing that genre.)

I hope you can see in today’s 2nd video of my “Great Ideas Series” that you can absolutely start with what you love, rather than what other people say will sell. There’s a process and craft to it, but I strongly believe you can write what you love and make good money doing it.

Creating a Book of Master Lists is a step toward learning how to do that.

Sign up for my Newsletter below to get the Brainstorming Great Ideas Workbook with a list of ideas for your Book of Master Lists, and I’ll see you next week with Video and Topic #3 in this Great Ideas Series.

Sarra Cannon


  1. Aria Hauser says:

    You are making me want to start my own notebook!

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Sarra Cannon

Hi, I'm Sarra!

I have been self-publishing my books since 2010, and in that time, I've sold well over half a million copies of my books. I'm not a superstar or a huge bestseller, but I have built an amazing career that brings me great joy. Here at Heart Breathings, I hope to help you find that same level of success. Let's do this.


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