7 Places I Get My Story Ideas (and you should too)

People often wonder where I get the ideas for my stories. I just say “different places,” and that is the truth. I used to write about myself and just change the main characters name, but that got tired quickly, as I’m not that exciting. As I grew as a writer, I realized there were stories all around me. Every day, I come across one thing that would make a great story.

But what are these inspirations and how does the germ of an idea become a full fledged story? Everyone has a different process. This is mine.

1. Real Life                                                                                                                                            I use people from my own life. They could be relatives or friends. They could be ex-lovers, former friends, former co-workers, current neighbors or anyone from our daily life (or former daily life). Sometimes these people are a composite, sometimes they aren’t.

I have yet been able to invent a convincing character that is not based on someone I know or know of.

2. Family Stories
All my life family members have been telling stories about my ancestors. People Iíve never met but know them through these stories. Family photos help me to imagine the life of this person. Ancestry.com is also a very unlikely place to find information for my stories. I have found out things no one in my family knew, and they are interesting indeed.

3. News Stories
I am not talking about who killed who today. I don’t want to hear it, so I sure won’t write it. I look for interesting stories, or a human interest piece. I can morph characters and combine scenarios. I often get an interesting mix.

Current newspapers are a good source, but I have been on the Newspapers.com website. There are some stories there that are extremely well written. This was in a time before our short attention spans got the better of us.read-1475727_640

I found a story about my two-times great uncle and a drunken chase. I also found a story about a woman with my last name who murdered her children in the early 1900’s. I didn’t set out to find this story, I was looking for genealogy information, but this one came to my attention. It was riveting, and I never forgot it.

4. History
Real life events and people make interesting subjects. Iíve read a lot of good Historical Fiction that was based on true events. Sometimes the characters are totally fiction, sometimes they are not. I wrote a story based on a maid who worked for a famous New Yorker. It was set in the early 1900’s. A lot of research is required for a story of this type. However, I did learn a lot about the era, and I don’t mind the research.

5. Eavesdropping
Riding on the New York City subway offers me a glimpse into the lives of my fellow New Yorkers. They love to talk loud, to each other and on the phone. They tell all their business, they think no one is listening. The writer is always listening. Other good places to listen are: movie theaters (before the movie starts), supermarket lines (or any line), park bench/beach/pool, basically anywhere two or more humans gather, yes, that includes church.

6. Books and Movies
I think this works for me, especially when watching a movie because my mind is so relaxed. Something may occur in a movie (or book) and I go into “What If” mode. I imagine a scenario where XYZ happens. It doesn’t have to be based on what I am watching or reading. Just a germ of an idea from something a charactewedding-1472840_640r says or does.

7. Dreams
My dreams are vivid. I can usually remember them in their entirety. Sometimes they don’t make sense, other times they are a full story within themselves. I have my notebook and pen on my bed, and I do wake up in the middle of the night to jot down as much as I remember. Sometimes I just use portions of the dream in a story, but one day, I may use an entire dream as the catalyst.

These are the techniques that I use. Stories are not automatically downloaded into my brain. They are from somewhere. It may have been something that happened 3 years ago that is in the dark recesses of my mind. When I need it, it comes to the front.

Try to take notes if you can. Don’t take a word per word dictation of a conversation at the deli, but remember as much as you can and jot it down. If you are good texter, try typing it in your notes app on your Smartphone (don’t record, that’s not cool).

I can’t wait to see what I write next.

About Liz Kelso

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