The Stories Around Us

Hello, SEers! Joan here. I’m excited about my first post with Story Empire and getting to know more about you, the reader. Today’s post is directed more toward beginning writers, but I believe all of us could benefit. So, without further ado…

Taken from the deck of the Norwegian Jewel, July 2012

Taken from the deck of the Norwegian Jewel, July 2012

Are you ever at a loss for words? I know I am. Those who know me may argue that point, but that’s another matter.

I don’t mean a casual conversation about the weather, whether or not you’re happy about who won the Super Bowl, or your opinion on the latest Hollywood blockbuster. I’m talking about the lack of story ideas.

I’ve heard new writers say they don’t know what to write about. Even seasoned authors sometimes face this dilemma.

So what’s a writer to do if the dreaded writer’s block happens? First, take a deep breath and relax. It’s not permanent. This too shall pass. If you’re stuck, there are countless websites with story prompts for those lacking ideas. I’ve used some of them before and come up with some decent short stories.

However, there are ways to generate your own ideas. Look around you.  You might be surprised at what you see.

A few years ago, my husband and I went on an Alaskan cruise. While standing on the deck with a friend one evening, I marveled at the fact that except for our ship, often there were no other signs of civilization. On occasion, we would see a small fishing boat, but for the most part, it seemed we were alone in the world.

But I knew small villages lay beyond those rocky shorelines and mountains. People lived, worked, and played there. I began to wonder about their lives. What type of jobs do they hold? How do they survive the harsh Alaskan winters? Do they get lonely?  What do they do for recreation or entertainment?

While I’ve yet to write a story set in Alaska, that experience taught me to be more observant of the people and events around me. For instance, I’ve written a flash fiction story based on an observation at our local Chili’s and another one after I recalled a personal experience during a flight to Tucson, Arizona.

“Look around you. There are stories to be told.” (Click to tweet.)

If you’re at a loss for words, try some of these:

  • Engage in people watching. Airports and shopping malls are great places to make observations. Sit at your favorite coffee shop and listen to people’s conversations. Observe how people interact with one another. I recently got an idea for a character based on something I overheard at the gym.
  • Draw from your own life experiences. In my novel Unseen Motives, a minor character sees something inexplicable. The idea came from something that happened to me when I was seventeen. If you write historical fiction, talk with an older family member or neighbor. Not only will you be able to glean story ideas, but you can also learn something about your family or the area where you live. More importantly, you’ll probably brighten that elderly person’s day simply by taking the time to visit.
  • Read the newspaper or listen to the news. Sebastian Junger’s creative non-fiction work The Perfect Storm came about after he read a newspaper article about the missing fishing vessel Andrea Gail. Singer and songwriter Gordon Lightfoot wrote the folk song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” as a tribute to the ship’s crew who perished during a massive storm on Lake Superior in November 1975.
  • Pay attention to your dreams. Did you know Paul McCartney wrote the mega-hit “Yesterday” after waking up with the tune in his head? Reflecting back on the moment, McCartney said this in a 2015 interview, “I liked the melody a lot but because I’d dreamed it I couldn’t believe I’d written it. I thought, ‘No, I’ve never written like this before.’ But I had the tune, which was the most magic thing.” He promptly got out of bed and began to play the melody on the piano.
How's this for a story prompt? (Note the dog and handler behind the plane's engine.)

How’s this for a story prompt? (Note the dog and handler behind the plane’s engine.)

Of note, when writing fiction, we should be careful about using ideas from our observations. Draw from them, but change things enough so someone wouldn’t associate or recognize themselves in the story.  For instance, if you suspect your reclusive neighbor who comes and goes at odd hours during the night is involved in drug trafficking, it wouldn’t be wise to write about it verbatim. Instead, imagine a character that is in the witness protection program.

Orson Scott Card once said, “Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”

What about you? How do you come up with story ideas? Please share in the comments.

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44 thoughts on “The Stories Around Us

  1. This is a post for all writers. You never know where your next story will come from. I love people watching, and recently had the occasion while trapped in the airport. It’s amazing what you see and hear. And I agree, the gym is another great place to get ideas. The things that i hear…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think the key is being aware of these things. Had an incident that happened near my house yesterday (a car accident in which fortunately no one was injured). I immediately began thinking of how to incorporate that into a story. Thanks for visiting!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Irene, I forgot to mention music. Songs have inspired me on several occasions. I like what you said about reality often surpassing imagination. And I do believe truth is often stranger than fiction. Thanks for stopping by.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Those are fantastic ideas for coming up with new story ideas! I find that ideas strike me in the most random moments, when I’m thinking about something completely different! Somehow two dots connect when I’m having coffee with a friend, reading an article, or just out and about! Inspiration is really all around us.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fantastic debut post, Joan! I’m fortunate that I don’t get hit with the dreaded block very often but when it does strike, I force myself to sit down and bulldoze through an idea. I collect ideas form random sources. One of my favorites if folklore and legend. With almost anything I encounter, all I need to do is tack on a “what if” and a story idea is born! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love folklore and legends. And you are right a “what if” can birth a story. I don’t have a problem thinking of ideas, but sometimes get stuck on a scene or how to transition from one to another. I need to be more like you and bulldoze through those times.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t really get writers’ block. My problem is that I have more ideas to turn into stories than I have time to write them. And my ideas come from all kinds of places. I think just watching the world from a writer’s perspective will garner all sorts of possibilities. That’s what happens to me, anyway.

    Great post, Joan.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I’m like you. I have so many stories in my head and not enough time to write them. Funny thing. The incident I referred to at Chili’s generated a flash fiction story for me. When I took it to my writer’s group and explained the situation, another writer who wrote non-fiction, journalistic type articles looked at it from a different perspective. Instead of letting her imagination run, she said she would have wanted to interview the people.

      Liked by 1 person

    • That’s nice! I had a scene in the first draft of my recent novel based on a dream I had years ago. It didn’t really fit, so I took it out, but I may still use that dream in another story. Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Love that Orson Scott Card quote because it’s so true. Observation skills and a natural curiosity are valuable tools for an author. Even if one writes fiction that has very little to do with reality. I’ve actually found that philosophical conversations or simply thinking about parts of life can stir an idea that focuses on that one idea. Not usually the cleanest way of getting an idea, but it works without warning.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Thanks for such a lovely post, Joan. Writer’s block happens to us all at some point, and you offer some great tips here. I love the photos you’ve used too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Harmony. It’s funny how ideas can come from all sorts of places. I really should write a story based on the second photo. I was on another plane waiting for my flight to Dallas. Needless to say, the dog sniffing the luggage aroused all sorts of suspicion from our passengers!

      Liked by 1 person

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