Writing advice

Story Ideas

This is one of the most frequent questions I’m asked, both by readers and interviewers:

Q: Where do you get your story ideas?
A: I take long walks and find them lying alongside the road.

Seriously, the world is chock full of stories and story ideas. We just need to look for them.

There are three billion people (and growing) on this planet and each of us is engaged in a daily struggle to find and make our place in the world. Each day is a story. Each day is made up of many stories, small victories and minor defeats that all tell a story. Each has a high and low point, a conflict met and overcome—or not—a problem solved, for better, or worse. We, as writers, just have to pay attention.

Listen to the stories the people around you tell about their lives. We are a species hard-wired for story-telling. We do it at the dinner table, in the break room, at the neighborhood bar. Listen. Glean them for story ideas: how does your boyfriend deal with the backstabbing rival at work? How does your little sister deal with the boy who has a crush on her at school? How does she discourage him without being out and out mean? How do you come up with the thousand dollars to replace your car’s transmission? Every one of us lives a myriad of stories every day.

Watch the news. Read the newspaper. Both mediums are based on high drama (it’s what drives the ratings), mostly tragedy, but also tales of heroism and the human spirit overcoming incredible adversity. Pay attention. Take notes. Keep a pen and paper with you, or download a note-taking app for your phone. Be ready when an idea appears.

Most important of all, every writer needs to be adept at the old childhood game of “what if?” What if an ordinary man could become invisible? What if we lived in Florida during colonial times and a hurricane came ashore? What if you woke up one morning and your entire life up to now was just a dream?

What if? The possibilities—and stories—are endless.

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