Ideas for novels and short stories are everywhere. The secret is to organize your ideas and find the perfect one to fit the story you want to tell.
Where do Ideas Come From?
Here are some places to look for ideas:
True Crime and Murder Cases in The Papers or on Television
Actors and actresses, politicians and other high profile people are always making the news. The newspaper and television are both good places to find mystery plots or those involving intrigue and scandal. If you get ideas from a news source, it is best not to use real names and to slightly change the events and the settings.
History, Travel, and Nonfiction Books
History repeats itself. History books are always a good source for ideas, especially obscure books that few people have read. Personal accounts and journals will give you a better perspective for writing fiction than books filled with dry facts. For example, if you want to set a story in the civil war era, with a female heroine, a book with a title like “One Woman’s Account of the Civil War” will provide more human detail than “General Lee’s Campaign Strategies.” Books about local legends and ghost stories can also generate ideas for fiction. Accounts of travel are also interesting places to search for ideas.
Find Ideas by Eavesdropping
While riding a bus late at night, I heard one drunk say sadly to another, “You know, you never forget your first love.” He was obviously thinking back to a happier time, a broken romance, filled with the bittersweet regret of losing someone through time or circumstance. What a start for a novel or short story!
Once, I overheard someone boast, “Everyone knows all the good deals are made in bars.” I didn’t make a story out of it, but I gave my crook that line in a current novel.
Draw from Your Own Past
A quote from FlanneryO’Connor goes, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.” In the words of Frank McCourt, “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood; the happy childhood is hardly worth your while…” Both authors make the same point—if you get through childhood you have enough material to write about for the rest of your life. The authors of books such as Angela's Ashes and Running with Scissors are examples of writers who took lemons and made lemonade,so to speak.
Start your own X-Files
The best way to collect ideas is to record them. That is why authors always run around with little notebooks. Get in the habit of collecting notes and then putting them in a computer file. (There are a lot of interesting things in “Vickie’s X-Files”, some which will be made into novels and short stories, others that probably never will.) Create sort of a running journal filled with interesting stories you’ve thought of or heard that might make a good plot twist or idea. Don’t hold back, write anything down that seems worthwhile. This is the place where incomplete stories go. Thoughts incubate. Sometimes, years later, you may find the perfect ending to a story idea you had started years ago. When you feel depleted, you will always have a backlog of random thoughts, character sketches, and plot ideas for inspiration.
Check back next month to learn about turning ideas into stories.