Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Michelle Giles
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Stories can be created from a simple thought, a word, a headline; even a line from a song can inspire your creativity and motivate you to write. The little things from life's daily events can also provide dozens of ideas. Anything you do or anywhere you go could supply fodder for your next story. You simply need to keep your mind open.
If you're having trouble coming up with that perfect story idea, here's a list of 25 unusual places that can spark your imagination:
1. Market research. Read through market listings and guidelines, even in areas you don't normally write. Make note of what the editors are looking for. Many times an editor's request will set off a new idea for a story or article. Even if an editor is looking for a nonfiction article about cloning, that may spark an idea for a science fiction story.
2. The TV Guide Channel. Everyone watches TV. Check out the channel that lists TV and cable movies along with a one-sentence summary. Use it as a study of what's been done, and what's been successful. Then create a new plot with a unique twist. Your story could be the next Movie-of-the-Week.
3. Greeting cards. People buy greeting cards as a way of expressing their feelings. Browse through your local card store and seek out the section that best matches your writing. For example, if you're blocked on a romance idea, read through the relationship section. If you need some humor to get you going, check out the funny cards. Then use a card's theme as your starting point.
4. Yellow pages. Believe it or not, the telephone book is full of creativity. Often, a catchy name for a company or service can stimulate ideas for a title or story. The telephone book is also a great resource for character names.
5. Newspaper articles. Read through your local weekly papers, as well as the freebies, and think of ways to develop the news into your writing. Real life stories are also good starting points for fiction. They show the drama, motivation and feelings of the characters of life. Court trials also offer details on characterization. In addition, headlines, especially those of the tabloids, make great titles.
6. Lyrics. Listen to the radio for inspiration. A line from a song or poem can provide the germ of a story. Relaxing to music also allows you to release your worries and helps to open up your creative side.
7. Other people. Non-writers are especially good for playing "what if?" Try probing your family and friends for plot points, titles, and ideas; you may be pleasantly surprised.
8. The Bible. Nowhere else can you find more plot, characterization, setting and voice. The story of all stories provides the basic plot for any type of writing. It can also be used as a basis for inspirational writing, which continues to run on a strong publishing trend.
9. Science and technology magazines. Read these for the latest discoveries and technological advances. They are particularly helpful when plotting science fiction and futuristic stories.
10. Comedy sketch shows. Watch shows like Saturday Night Live and Tracey Takes On... They are prime examples of characterization. Study the characters and note which attributes make them humorous and memorable to you, as well as what makes them popular. This will help you create likeable characters your readers will remember.
11. Classics. Great writing always inspires the mind. Even if you write commercially, a good literary read will help you improve the quality of your writing and language.
12. Internet. A search on any subject can yield hundreds of ideas. Surfing the Net for fun can often start you thinking about your next project. The Internet will also allow you to see what's been done before, especially in nonfiction.
13. Photographs. A photo of a place can stimulate an idea for a setting, while a photo of a person can spark an idea for a character. If a picture moves you, but you can't immediately think of a story idea, file it away. You never know when it may come in handy. You can also jump start the creative process by finding an intriguing photo and creating a story about it.
14. Psychology books. Introduction to psychology and abnormal psychology textbooks provide a wealth of information on character. Psychology books provide background, motivation, and deep insight into human behavior. Similarly, the Diagnostic Statistic Manual (DSM) lists various character traits, which can be used for profiles. The DSM and psychology books can usually been found at the reference desk of the library.
15. Commercials. These mini-stories often hint at what's hot with consumers. Many commercials even present a short story with a punch-line or twist ending in just a minute. Try using the same format to create your own short piece. This can be very effective in contest writing, where judges are looking for writers to present information in a unique way.
16. Life events. Take an incident in your daily life and bring it to an extreme. For example, suppose you go to the doctor for a routine checkup and find you're healthy. Why not go home and write a story about a doctor telling your character she will die?
17. Consumer products. Current products represent life today. If you're writing contemporary stories or articles, people want to read about things they know or use. Even the back of a cereal box can start you off.
18. Contests. Each contest forces you to write about a specific subject or theme by a certain deadline. This gets your mind going in several directions for different types of writing, in addition to the contest entry. And even if you don't win, you have a manuscript you can sell elsewhere.
19. Stupid criminal books. These books list all the dumb mistakes average criminals make. Although criminals in fiction must be clever and smart, these books will teach you a lot about human nature. They can also spark crime and humor story ideas.
20. TV story lines. Watch a television show, then add a new twist, new character, or new plot. The themes of most TV shows, particularly prime-time dramas, often work with cutting-edge trends in fiction and nonfiction. Remember, the better the market for your story, the better chance it will sell.
21. Children's books. Children's books offer basic themes that can be adapted and expanded in any story. They also offer an easy and clear way of explaining technical information, which can be useful in nonfiction articles.
22. Senior citizens. Our elders have fantastic stories and touching memories. Talk to your grandmother, great-grandfather, parents, an uncle, a friend. The possibilities of creating powerful stories from their memories are endless. Their tales could set off an historical novel, a nonfiction book, even a murder mystery.
23. Magazine ads. Advertisements tell a story in a few short words. Use the idea, then expand it. Again, the ads show the current trends. Read a variety of magazines, because you never know what may hit you.
24. People in a crowd. Pick out a person, imagine yourself in his shoes and start from there.
25. Writing formats. Stories and articles don't always have to be written in the expected form. Letters, press releases, business reports, memos, even recipes can serve as a format for fiction or nonfiction.
Remember, it doesn't matter how you find your story idea, only that you find it. The best way is to pay attention -- all the time and everywhere. Look at your surroundings, listen to the nearby voices, smell, touch, and taste. Never limit yourself. Then, when someone asks you where you get your story ideas, you'll be able to say "everywhere."
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Michelle Giles has published 60 short stories in national magazines, including Woman's World and Star Magazine. She is the publicity director for Sisters in Crime/Central Jersey.