The Writers’ Notebook:
Where do you get the ideas for your stories?
It’s probably the most common question writers
are asked, though often I’m not sure exactly where the ideas have come from
until the story’s finished, and I can trace it backwards.
Ideas can come from
anywhere, from everything you see, hear, feel, imagine or dream. I think what
tends to changes some of those experiences from just being interesting into
inspiration for a story is how many questions can be asked from them.
Sometimes it could simply
be an object in an unexpected place that sets you to wondering; sometimes you
see part of a story enacted in front of you, leaving you dying to know the
Here’s an example of
each of these extremes – including how I found them, just to prove that you
don’t have to be doing anything very dramatic to find story ideas.
: I was
walking the dog down a
path near our house when I spotted a haircomb tangled in an overhanging twig.
It was black plastic, nothing fancy, and the twig was a little lower than my
head height. So how did it get there? Why didn’t the wearer notice it being
pulled from her head? And who was she?
The most logical
explanation is that it was a girl a little shorter than me, who hadn’t noticed
because she was daydreaming or hurrying – but what was she dreaming about, or
why was she hurrying? Maybe she was taller than me and was ducking for some
reason. Or maybe she was a small child on a Shetland pony. Or maybe he was a
boy; I’m just presuming it was a girl, but you don’t have to.
And what if
: what if there was blood on it?
What if it hadn’t been plastic, but jewelled? What if it had been one of this
glorious pinterest collection
Real life snippets
: We were having lunch in a crowded café with
long communal tables. The mature aged couple next to us were obviously on a
first date: they were explaining various life details; they were consciously polite,
tentative but happy. Suddenly she said she had to leave, and rushed out,
leaving him looking crushed. An hour later, as we waited to buy tickets for an
exhibition, we realised that they were in the queue behind us, seeming relaxed
and happy – and quite excited at recognising us – maybe because, if their story
was going to continue, we were now one of the details of its beginning.
But why did she leave?
How did they get together? What are the backstories that led to them choosing
an art exhibition as a first date? And most importantly, what happens next?
Nearly anything can be
a story starter; it’s all about the questions you ask and where the answers