This post is #4 of a 10 part series in the lead up to a writing conference being hosted by Fiona McIntosh (October 2019). Please follow along with my weekly posts as I share some writing tips and experiences I’ve gained while writing my manuscript and preparing for this wonderful opportunity.

Have you ever been somewhere and something so ridiculous happened you thought ‘you just can’t make this stuff up?’ Maybe a crazy date or a work incident? It’s moments of the unexpected that can spark a story idea, be it the whole plot or points/events/quirks of your story or characters.

I’ve done a few writing courses and attended free public library talks and the single most common question I hear is ‘Where do story ideas come from?’ It’s a very valid question and something I have definitely pondered myself.  And, to be honest, I’m disappointed when the response is somewhat vague. I want a definitive answer — I want to crack the code to creativity!

I’m really hoping to write a whole shelf of books…. so I guess that means finding lots of story ideas! I want to share some ways that story ideas have come to me (I have a whole notepad full of scribbles) and what I’ve picked up while learning about and practicing writing.

Your environment

A seed of a story can come simply from the world around you. I always remember a point of social commentary around the TV show, Sex & The City — the characters were, of course, amazing but I remember reading about how New York City was like the fifth character. It’s true! If you watch the episodes it’s not just about Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda, the city and the lifestyles they’re living add a whopping layer to the story lines. I mean, S&TC is responsible for the revival of the cupcake! Everyone wanted a pretty swirled Magnolia cupcake — I’ve been to the famed bakery and I didn’t care how long I had to wait in line. Don’t you dare call me tragic! 

The unique features of a place can spark a great story — look at the type of jobs that are prominent, the mix of cultures and people, the dark side (crime, politics etc), the history.

An object

Sometimes a very special or very ordinary object can get the creative juices flowing. I mean there’s a wonderful story about a pair of jeans that unite a circle of friends (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants). It sounds so simple, yet the story is so beautiful as it delves into the individual women’s lives and the way they are connected.

I’ve spoken to other writers whose story ideas have come about because of a family heirloom — while there might be a good family story behind the object, it doesn’t have to be a biography, use it to prompt a wildly fictional tale.

A conversation

Ah yes, my favourite one… the best eavesdroppers are the best writers! A conversation on a train, in a restaurant or within in your own family can be the greatest platform for a story or character development. The actual topic of conversation or the way a person speaks can add a unique layer of depth to a story (or form it).

Listen all around and take notes!

Your imagination

I know it’s an obvious thing to say but I want to include it as a sort of ‘permission’ to go crazy. I needed to hear it during one of my writing courses. I asked if a certain scene I was working on was too silly and my tutor stopped me… Of course it should be silly or wild or crazy — it’s fiction! The reader needs to be entertained, to escape from their reality. I often have to remind myself that I can take a tiny bit of inspiration and let my mind go wandering to see where it will end up. 

The more you seek, the more you find

I’ve found that once I started seeking inspiration from around me, watching and thinking with the mind of a storyteller, I saw things differently. In fact, sometimes I can’t switch it off — I hear names and accents and think of a character, I see a shadowy footpath and imagine what my character would be doing there, etc, etc. I’m sure you get the drift. So, arm yourself with a notebook (I think it’s better writing by hand than a memo in the phone) and jot those ideas down. I hope these tips help!

J x

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