Where do story ideas come from? It is one of the most commonly asked questions at a book launch or directed towards well-known feature writers, and it’s a good one. To the outside world published writers are unicorns, the kind of magical creatures who see the world differently. I bet just like me, you’ve read a book or a column and thought “How did they come up with this?!” I’m looking at you Trent Dalton!
I’m tentatively starting work on a brand new idea that I didn’t see coming — I’m talking something dark and different and completely in a genre I’m not used to! And, it all came about last month while I was visiting my family in Darwin. My eldest son is obsessed with everything military and early one morning, before it got too scorching hot, my dad piled us into his 4WD, lovingly known as Big Red, and rumbled us out to some WWII historic sites across Darwin. We had a great morning climbing up into old gun turrets, looking at decommissioned tanks and learning about this historical moment in time. As we were walking along the shore my dad made one small off the cuff comment about *something* (can’t reveal it yet) and my brain literally jumped to attention like a soldier and I knew there was a story there just waiting to be written! That idea has NOT left my mind all this time and I know I have no choice but to type it out
From idea to publication
I’m not published yet and have faced several rejections and sometimes I wonder if a part of it is story idea. So in my endeavour to crack this part of the puzzle I voraciously listen to podcasts of authors on their virtual book tour. l have heard authors reveal that their story idea came from an event during their childhood, a conversation they had with a friend, or often from a real life news event they saw unfold on their TV.
Most recently Australian author, Sally Hepworth, shared that the idea for her latest book, The Younger Wife, grew from a moment she had with her Great Aunt and a hot water bottle stuffed with cash!
So, I think part of story conception comes from a moment in time and letting your mind wander in a dramatic way from there.
Ideas on... ideas!
To help you (and future me when I’m stumped), I’ve jotted down ways to “come up” with story ideas:
- Read magazines and feature news. Often you will find incredibly eye-opening and emotional real life stories that could spring a totally different fiction story (obviously don’t take someone else’s experience and make it your own). This might also trigger a memory for you that you could tap into.
- Go through old photos. See if there’s a moment in time or an incident that could spark a story idea e.g. take that photo of you at a theme park and imagine if the day had of turned out differently.
- Search story prompts or short story competitions. Often these little triggers can grow into much bigger fiction stories.
- Ask yourself: What is the worst that could happen? It’s the general basis for storytelling anyway, so use it in a real life situation as you go about your day. If you’re in the grocery store look at the people around you and think about what might happen if… Do this at the beach, on a bushwalk, driving down a windy road, you get the drift.
Be childlike with your imagination
As you can see, I think it ultimately comes down to letting your imagination run free. As we get older we turn to facts, and research, and hard news… we forget that when we were little a cardboard box became a spaceship, and that’s exactly what we need to do with a tiny pin prick of an idea. Extrapolate! Dramatize! Be bold!
I think this quote sums it up best: