I get asked about this a lot. Where do you get ideas? Ideas are everywhere, we just have to be aware of them. Every time I see an interesting person, my mind starts revving up and suddenly I’ve got an idea. I come up with ideas for their background, their job, their relationships and what they’re doing in the place I found them. I write it all down in the notebook I keep in my purse.
If you’re having a hard time gathering ideas, here are a few tips –
- Be observant everywhere you go.
Be observant everywhere you go
If you start looking at everything around you through the eyes of a writer, soon you’ll find yourself floating in ideas. Really look at people or things. Apply the 5 Ws – who, what, why, when and where. Add ‘how’ if you want to.
- Who is this person? (make it up, don’t ask them)
- What are they doing in their life? (or here? today? this year? etc fill in the blank)
- Why are they doing the thing you listed in #2? (Is it their job? Are they being blackmailed? Are they running away?)
- When do they have to accomplish this task? (is a bomb ticking?)
- Where do they go? (to work? to buy something illegal? to escape?)
- How are they going to do it? (do they have a gun? is the item in their pocket right now? are there code words?)
You can see how easy it is to get carried away, but let yourself get carried away! You may have the makings of a great mystery on your hands. All great writers were something else first. None of them were born writing. You must act on your desire.
My mother taught me not to do this, but I’m giving you permission for one exception to the rule. Only eavesdrop on strangers. Don’t do it at home, or your friend’s house, or your boss’ office. That will only get you in trouble. Eavesdrop among strangers.
While standing in line, waiting for the movie to start, a doctor’s office – any public place like that. Don’t eavesdrop at your gym, a party or anyplace you’re liable to run into these people again. (That’s my disclaimer.)
What are you listening for? Snippets of conversation. They don’t need to make sense to you, you can’t know the context. A lot of our conversations with each other are carried on from earlier times – no updating needed. Just listen and write down what you hear. It doesn’t have to be a big deal.
One time I was waiting in line at the movies and the one of the films playing was Pompei. A couple behind me were deciding which movie to watch. I really wasn’t paying much attention until I heard this –
“Pompei? Hmmm, I wonder what that’s about?” a woman said.
“Uh … Pompei?” her companion replied.
Now, that’s great stuff for off the cuff conversation in a story. You could substitute anything for ‘Pompei’ – a news item, a notorious movie star by name, etc. It depicts a woman who is either preoccupied with something else, or something of a dingbat. It could also be a man who says that line – you’re the writer, you choose!
The point is to collect these snippets here and there in your Writers Notebook, which you are carrying around with you all the time, right? Right!
Next Thursday we’ll cover –
- If you don’t already, begin people watching.
Where do you get ideas? Are you working on a short story for next Tuesday?