There’s no right, wrong, or even singular answer to this question—I’m just curious to see where other writers have found inspiration.
A story’s conception is a curious thing. For me it is almost always different. Sometimes it begins with a prompt (duct tape + drunken cheerleader + ninja + Bally Total Fitness); sometimes with a dream (shapeshifting / doppelgangers / manipulating appearance); sometimes with a sentence (“Going to see the secret eater was like going to confessional, except the secret eater was not a holy man and those that came did not seek forgiveness.”); sometimes with a concrete object (pearl earrings); sometimes with an idea (madness); sometimes with a character trait (ridiculous swears); sometimes with a name (Anne De Manda & Peter McBunterbeans—coined after my friend Amanda and her rabbit Peter, both of whom were proximate at the time).
Sometimes one, none, or all of the above.
How about you: where do you draw or have you drawn your stories from? Do you find one source/starting point to be more common than another?