A few days ago, scientists discovered a new planet. While larger than Earth, this new planet is the best candidate so far to support life. Is that not exciting? Yes, I know not to get my hopes up. But this is the fourth planet they’ve found outside our system that could be habitable.

Discoveries like these really get me thinking: what if we could colonize other planets, not hundreds of years from now, but within say, 20 or 30 years from now? Effectively, within our life time! Science fiction writers have been dreaming about this since the beginning of the genre. And now science fiction is really looking like science fact.

Just picture it. A group of colonists, hopeful and excited and scared, board a space ship designed to take them to a new home twenty-two light years away (assuming it can support life that is!). What sort of challenges would they face upon arriving, or even, before arriving (Pandorum, anyone?). What if there was an intelligent native population on the planet when they arrived?

Even if this doesn’t get you excited, notice how one news event has sparked my imagination. It doesn’t have to be science-related. Regardless of where you get your news, reading it should make you think about what’s going on in the world around you. And this, in turn, could make you think about alternate worlds within you that are waiting to be created.

Ask yourself:

What is the story behind this article?

If the journalist were to continue writing past the end of the article, what would he/she write about?

Is the protagonist of the article also the protagonist of a larger story? Maybe the protagonist’s brother or friend would have a different perspective.

If the article doesn’t seem to have a protagonist and is more about a specific event, who would this event affect? How can you use this as a backdrop to someone’s story?

How might this article be viewed 10 years from now? 100 years? If someone saw this article 100 years ago, what would they think?

What if this article was the last thing you were ever allowed to read? The only thing you were allowed to read? What would society look like if this article suddenly became a religious text?

Whether you’re looking for ideas or you’re stuck thinking in a specific way, asking yourself questions like those above can get you thinking about scenarios you’ve never considered before. Sometimes it only takes one question to create a story—be it fiction, or non-fiction.