Whenever I want to creatively juggle words and phrases I go straight to my favorite online toy, Wordle, which creates word clouds out of any text or URL you feed to it. Among other things I regularly use it to coin words, create story titles, and play with character profiles.
This time I went to Wordle with a less well-defined task on hand: pulling together some concept sketches. For me concepts often begin as simply a handful of words, images or feelings I want to stir together and see how they blend. Wordle helps with the stirring and the mixing.
I decided to tackle defining the concepts better by taking four defining/descriptive keywords, pulling a bunch of synonyms for them from the thesaurus and feeding the entire pile to Wordle to see what it made of them. If nothing else I figured I might get a few title ideas out of the exercise (and click on any of the following images to get a bigger view of the cloud.)
Concept #1: green, evening, ghost, sorrow
Several phrases overlapped and ended up being repeated, and as I read them I could see some new connections I hadn't made. Wordle's pairings of Winter demon, sunset vision and witching night also helped me further refine the concept. This cloud definitely sent me in the right direction.
Concept #2: desire, steal, time, secret
Not many phrases overlapped in this cloud, and at first glance it seemed, well, overly wordy. But once I gave it a few minutes I began focusing on individual words that seemed to jump out at me: underground, ransom, thieve, clouded, hunger and longing. Together they gave me the protagonist, who will be the hub of this concept.
Concept #3: heart, jewel, bright, fire
Again, not a lot of overlap, but probably the best results of all three attempts. Inspired by great pairings like white luster, twinkling cross, burning charm and individual words like solitaire, aglow and incandescent I found my plot and both protagonists as well as one possible setting.
If you want to try this method for your story concept, my advice is to use descriptive words that relate in some way to your story rather than stringently define it. Think mood instead of details. It also helps to employ keywords that are synonym-friendly, and do use plenty of synonyms, as the more you feed to Wordle, the more diversity you'll get in return.