10-Second Story Ideas - Adapt Familiar Titles and Phrases

While this post deals with fiction writing, its principles can be applied to nonfiction writing, copywriting, and content writing. It's about putting a spin on the tried and true.

10-Second Story Ideas - Adapt Familiar Titles and Phrases

by Deb Gallardo

This 10-second story inspiration comes from clever book titles that immediately made me ask "What's this story about?" These titles are fun, but more importantly, they are compelling. How can YOU create similarly quirky titles (and stories) that set the imagination soaring and will drive people in droves to your book? To answer that, let's look at the sources of these titles before they were so cleverly transformed.


"The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse" is a nod to "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," which heralds the end of the world as we know it.

"The Big Over Easy: A Nursery Crime" is a play on words for "The Big Easy" (nickname of New Orleans, Louisiana), and which was a dark film about a police investigation into mob violence and possible police corruption.

"Thursday Next: First Among Sequels (Book 5)" alludes to the British novel and miniseries "First Among Equals," about four politicians vying to become Prime Minister of the UK.

"Duncan Delaney and the Cadillac of Doom" calls to mind "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," the quintessential adventure tale with an impending cloud of doom hanging over it.


Notice how, in the first title, juxtaposing chocolate bunnies and the apocalypse makes an immediate statement. It sets the mind to wondering 'What could chocolate bunnies possibly have to do with the end of the world?'

In the second title, we can deduce from the fact it's a "nursery crime" having to do with eggs, that this is probably about Humpty Dumpty, but that he didn't just fall. He's been murdered.

With the third title, even if you aren't familiar with this delightful novel series, you can tell it has something to do with books and politicians vying for position.

Finally, the last title just jumped out at me with its "Cadillac of Doom" phrasing. I have no idea what this story is about, but I can brainstorm about cars of doom for quite awhile. Asking what-if is the easiest way to do that.

* What if the Cadillac is a portal into another dimension? Sci-Fi / Fantasy

* What if the trunk of an abandoned Cadillac is the entrance to a secret underground facility? Mystery / Thriller

* What if the Cadillac is haunted by the ghost of a girl who spent 10 minutes of adolescent passion in its backseat, never to hear from the boy again so she kills herself? Horror

* What if the Cadillac curses its owner with too much good luck? Paranormal (with a moral a la "Twilight Zone")


Find a phrase or title that is almost universally recognized. Here are two examples: "A Tale of Two Cities" and "It was a dark and stormy night." We begin by substituting words to alter the meaning.

1. Use a play on words - "A Tail of Two Cities" --- "It Was a Dark and Stormy Knight."

2. Substitute similar-sounding words - "A Tale of Two Cityslickers" --- "It Was a Dark and Smarmy Sight."

3. Juxtapose vivid contrasts - "A Tale of Two and a Half Cities" --- "It Was a Dark and Stormy and Cushy Little Playpen"

You may come up with your own devices to transform a familiar title or phrase into something clever. Whatever method you employ, the point is to have fun with it. And, of course, to inspire your writing!

NOTE: Longer phrases can be easier to transform than, say, two-word titles like "Great Expectations." But the beauty is -- there are NO rules.

The possibilities from this one method are almost endless. So set your imagination free!

In addition to this technique for finding story ideas, I invite you to visit The Story Ideas Virtuoso blog, where you will find multiple ways to inspire your writing in this and other articles: Lessons Hurricane Ike Taught Me.

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