It’s a myth that, in order to be a writer, you already need to have a library of stories built into your imagination, and that you must be able to conjure up these stories from the cobwebbed corners of your brain in an instant. Of course, it helps if you get into the habit of thinking ‘I wonder what would happen if…’; however, you don’t need to have all those stories in your head to be a good writer. Writing is as much about regularly looking for stories as it is about producing them.
Try looking for potential plots and characters in these places, and see what you find. Keep a notebook handy, noting ideas throughout your day.
In The Street And Outside The Window
If you think that nothing interesting ever happens to you, well, that excuse won’t hold up around here! Interesting events and folk can be found anywhere; you don’t even need to leave your house. Observe your neighbourhood. If people can be heard chatting to others, or they are chatting to you, then the conversation may provide ideas for dialogue, or a short story. If, however, no words are uttered and you only observe, then consider a few things to gain any insight into what kind of person they are, given that you are not going to know from word of mouth. Does their clothing indicate their lifestyle or profession? Do they look poor or wealthy? Does their facial expression suggest they are excited, worried, burdened, tired, annoyed? Does their body language give away anything? Look around for anyone who seems to be showing particularly heightened emotions, or acts in a way you’d deem to be suspicious.
Likewise, have you seen anything happen in the street? A police car pulling up, a fight breaking out, an argument unfolding? Record these events as they all could be the starting scene of a narrative.
And, should you live in the quietest neighbourhood ever, remember that your entire surroundings are locations that have been used for stories before. Make a story out of that tranquillity – why is it so quiet? What possible, creative, unusual reasons are there for it just being too quiet? An empty street is as much a story as a full one.
Take care when trying to glean ideas from people you know: keep it respectful and ethical by avoid plucking details so that your story is identical to the personal life circumstances of someone close to you. However, the people weaving in and out of our lives are colourful and full of experience. Listen more to those in your social network and spot the simple bases for millennia of stories: arguments and conflict, sudden tragedies, difficult decisions, new starts, and painful pasts. Equally, take time to notice what people reveal. Do you know their likes and dislikes, hobbies, worries, strengths, personalities? Or do they hold back some of these details? Story characters do the same.
If you can recall times in your life when you felt deep emotions, happy or sad, you have a starting point for a story right there. That doesn’t mean you have to be autobiographical either. Think of an emotional experience, and consider where you were, what sparked the emotion, and who you were with. Take the bare bones of the situation, and consider a story where your fictional character chooses a totally different reaction and path to you. If, however, your personal experiences feel exactly that – too personal – you have a wealth of possible ideas just waiting for you in every place.
Of course, you can find some fun plot ideas from any newspapers, or anything for that matter, but the local newspapers have some crackers. Whereas the national papers might devote many pages at a time to a single political campaign or a world disaster, a local paper may have heaps of little accounts on a single page – that’s a lot of potential plots. They can be imaginative, bizarre, tragic, funny, celebratory, and beyond. Additionally, check out the adverts and announcements for more insights into people’s lives. The oddities found in these sections help spark funny stories as you find a lonely hearts ad next to an ad about someone trying to sell a boa constrictor.
Should you fancy making the protagonist of your story a celebrity, check out the many gossip magazines, or opt for an interview feature if you want to get some of the points of view of a star. But don’t overlook some of the more specialised magazines: if you like to write about crime, magazines like Real Crime and True Crime account the stories of real-life villains and victims.
It’s old advice. If you want to be a better writer: read, read, read. As well as that, I advise that you should also watch, watch, watch. Get acquainted with the material in your preferred genre or type of story, yet also dabble in other media and genres. Even if you had it in mind to write a novel, check out a radio drama, or a poem. Look for the underlying themes, the changes in a story, the conflicts, and the characters you root for.
The writing prompts and story generators available online and in books nowadays mean you don’t even have to go beyond the comfort of your own home to find inspiration. Look out for anything from ideas for first lines, last lines, names, settings, and events.
Where do you mostly find inspiration for your stories? Comment below!