The Seeds of a Story
Little did I know it, but that seemingly trivial chat would lodge itself in my head and continue to burrow away at me until I finally got it out in a short story, involving a sinister old man with an unhealthy obsession for (you guessed it) bones.
The story was a joy to write, not least because it came from a single, eerie image –that little collection of death, hidden away under the stairs; and the questions that arose from it. Who put them there? Were those animals killed deliberately, or did someone simply find the bones while they were out and about? It was too juicy not to write about.
Finding Your Trigger
Some of the best stories come from events like this – random occurrences that niggle into your brain and refuse to depart until you get them out on paper. They’re also wonderful for those occasions when you’re struggling to find inspiration – which is something that happens to all us writers from time to time.
But where do you find these little nuggets of ideas? Short answer…everywhere. It’s just a matter of keeping your ears and eyes firmly open, and asking questions about the world around you.
But Life is Never That Interesting, Is It?
You’d be surprised. I recently wrote a short story based merely on part of an overheard conversation (on our local bus). The comment was “I bet that celebrity just lives a lonely, sad life, all on her own.” Doesn’t sound that inspirational, does it? Yet it triggered some questions – what is life like for celebrities? Do they dream of returning to a life where they could trot down the street for a pint of milk and not get mobbed by adoring fans? Do they look at their wealthy homes and loathe them?
The resulting story was actually about a celebrity writer and her estranged son – but it all stemmed from that one random sentence.
Great Places to Sniff Out Triggers
The number of places you can find inspiration is limitless. However, here are just a few to get you started.
- On public transport. Without being too obvious, have a listen to what people are saying on trains or buses. It’s often gloriously odd! Cafes and restaurants are also good places to listen in… though do be sensitive – earwigging into private heart-to-hearts isn’t recommended!
- Strange objects. When you see an object that looks out of place, start asking questions about it. For example, that old tin can on the beach. How did it get there? Who did it belong to? Was it ever used for something important? You’ll need some imagination here, but it’s fun to see where your ideas lead you.
- From history. In my opinion, history is often better than any work of fiction. So many events have taken place in history that beggar belief, and many are well worth writing about. Remember, some of the world’s best writers have ruthlessly pinched elements from historical events. George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series is set in a fantasy realm, yet has strong links with history!
- From the stories of others. If there’s one thing people are great at, it’s spinning a yarn. I remember my Great Aunt terrifying me once with a story about strange footprints found in a wood near her home. The story never left me, and guess what… it influenced yet another short story! Likewise, urban legends and folklore can churn up some brilliant creative ideas.
- ‘What if’ questions. If you’re really stuck for inspiration, playing the ‘what if’ game is great fun. While walking through town, ask yourself what would happen if an earthquake suddenly happened. Or the electricity all went down, never to return (how would we all manage without our precious technological devices, eh?). Or if a crazed axe-murderer hurtled out of the nearest shop and started charging at you? It’s amazing where your mind will wander if you let it.