Sunday, February 8, 2009

Where to find ideas for writing

Time and time again I've heard the statement, "I don't know where to start. I don't know where to get ideas." The person could be talking about writing a novel, a short story, an article, or even a research paper. Let's discuss some places to start finding ideas.

I read an article from the May 2007, The Writer, "Steal from Life" by April Henry, that caught my attention completely. The title certainly wasn't something a reader would expect as a writing tip since plagiarism is a "no-no."

However, Henry didn't mean for us to steal another's writing, another's work, but she brought out good ideas for discovering ideas to use in writing. In fact many of her suggestions are ones I've used for many years. I'm going to use her topic areas and add my thoughts with some of hers:

* Steal from strangers: The idea is NOT to take things that belong to others, but to use their mannerisms, way of dressing, characteristics. I take notes when I see people on the street, in stores, in schools, at ball games if I notice something that could fit a character. I may not have a story in mind at the time, but I know that sooner or later, I'll be able to use some of my notes. This point is closely connected to the next one.

* Pilfer real people: In my "tween" book that I wrote, the coach of one baseball team is loud, over-bearing, and sometimes verbally abusive to his players, even his own son. I developed this character after observing a few coaches at youth baseball games over the years. I took their traits and actions and created one of the "villains" in the story. Remember, a novel is just a story that didn't quit soon enough to be a "short" story. In fact often a short story will "grow up" to be a novel some day. Delight

I have a vast file of characters ready to be used from watching and learning about real people.

* Eavesdrop on exchanges: One way to create believable and memorable dialogue is to "steal" what you hear when eavesdropping. I jot down interesting bits and pieces I hear and work them into stories when appropriate.

* Take from news stories: I have boxes of articles clipped from newspapers and magazines. One story I plan on writing some day is the fictional account of a person who lost a close friend in the Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma City. I have piles of articles, not only presenting the facts, but also giving much of the emotional impact on survivors and the family and friends of those lost.

I have a file of articles about the murder of one of my nieces, the capture of her killer, his trial, and then his death. That will add to my personal memories to create a book some day. Her death has already been the basis of two stories or articles, "I Don't Want to Know" and "The Case of the Missing Cheerleader" . In time, I'll have a fictional story.

Henry tells about a news clipping that tells about people committing suicide by jumping from high places. The article says they take off their glasses before they leap. Therefore, if a body is found with smashed glasses close by, foul play should be considered.

* Filch from your fears: The author suggestions that if you, the writer, has a fear of enclosed spaces or spiders, then give that fear to one of your characters. This would be one way of writing what you know, too.

Personally, I fear heights. I can give that fear to someone who must climb on a roof to escape a killer or to someone who must climb up a tree to rescue a child.

* Walk away with the Web: Googling is a great way to find the information about a subject or sub-topic that could bring your writing to life. Don't be afraid to use search engines, especially to find first person accounts of a theme in your story.

If I were writing a story about an on-line predator, I could search for accounts of young people who were the prey of such "people."

* Take a technique:
Read, attend classes and workshops, go to conferences. When you find a technique that interests you, try it. If it works, great. If it doesn't work, try something else.

* Snatch the source: Find experts in a field, religion, culture, or area that you use in your story. Henry uses the example of an author interviewing a family about their religious beliefs, as she visited them in their home. She discovered details that made a character in her story stronger and more in-depth.

All those suggestions give a wealth of material to be used in finding where to start a story. Writers should have files of ideas simply from observations and study of the world around them.

I use many, in fact all, of the preceding tips for finding ideas and material to use in my stories and novels. To find more about my short stories, check Hidden Lies and Other Stories for a collection of stories by me and by Holly Jahangiri. My historical fiction, Prairie Dog Cowboy, has its own web site, as does my mystery/suspense novel Midnight Hours.

Most of my books are through 4RV Publishing.



Sun Singer said...

I really like these ideas! Anything that impacts me is likely to get into my writing one way or another.


Rena said...

Great post, Vivian. Thank you.

Joyce Anthony said...

Great ideas, Vivian!!

Deb Hockenberry said...

These are great ideas, Viv! You're so inspiring!
Deb :-)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Great tips!
I think if writers just stopped and observed life now and then, they'd never run out of ideas.

L. Diane Wolfe

elysabeth said...

I agree. Most writers will tell you that their ideas just come from around them - people watching and listening without being a noseybody. Experiences in your own life can add to the ideas too. It doesn't really take much to go from seeing or hearing something to an idea swirling in your head that just grows and grows until you have a story. Good points, Vivian. E :)

Vivian Zabel said...

These tips are some I gave my students when I taught and the ideas I've used all my writing life.

Life gives me more ideas than I can use in one lifetime.

I'm glad when I can use what I have learned to in turn help other writers.

Jean Henry Mead said...

You've been Scrabble Tagged:

Coursework said...

There are really times when I do not know how to start especially if I am doing my term papers. What I usually do is walk around the village or even outside like malls, schools or resorts and jot down every little thing I want to write based on what I see, feel, or anything under the sun. I find it helpful to have a lot of notes scribbled in my planner that will surely give me ideas. Another way is that, I spend most of my time surfing the net. The internet is indeed a powerful tool and source of ample information on different topics. Great post:)

Karen and Robyn - Writing for Children said...

These are great ideas, Vivian. Thanks for the post.

Beth Bence Reinke said...

These are great ideas, Vivian. I especially like the one about giving characters a fear you have yourself. Effective way to get inside the character's head. Spiders...ugh.

Mary Casey said...

I have ideas, but I don't know what to do with them. Have you ever had an idea and just started writing to see where the story would go? Or do you outline always?

Vivian Zabel said...

I don't outline. I just let my imagination take over. In no time I have a plot and some characters ready to go. After I've run the rough movie in my head a few times, I go to the computer and start typing.