Beginning writers are always asking how others come up with story ideas. I know it’s a question I used to have all the time when I first began fiction writing. But even as I was asking that question, new ideas for stories were always popping into my head. What I learned was that as a writer you need to be ready for them and open to them. One of the things I have always enjoyed doing is listening to other writers and how they get their story ideas. From best selling authors to beginners, I always perk up when I hear someone say, “I got the idea for my story from…” That is the bottom line. We all get our story ideas from somewhere. Those ideas can come from even the smallest things around us – even just a sentence
My mother presented me with a great story idea just from one line that I never forgot. She was a born story teller and the one story she loved telling over and over was how she met my father. She was a girl just shy of her teen years sitting on a fence post watching the cowboys at work on her uncle’s ranch. She took one look at my dad and told her cousin, “I’m going to marry that boy one day.” Needless to say, my dad wasn’t interested in some kid who kept following him around and playing tricks on him to get his attention. It took years before he ever noticed her beyond her peskiness, much less showed any attention.
But that little story always stuck with me, so of course, I had to use it in a story, which became the background for one of my first romances, Home Fires Burning. While it sometimes seems easy for me to come up with story ideas, taking them from quick lines seems to be a good way to begin working on a premise. I took another idea from a quick line – “women don’t belong in…” That line was given to me by more than one man in the sports field when I wanted to become a sportswriter. First, “women don’t belong in the press box,” and second “women don’t belong in the locker room.” Whether it was true or not, I got to use it when writing my romance, Love on Deck. (the good news was that I did get into the press box at more than one place and I did get into the press area of more than one baseball team.) But breaking ground rules is not the point here. The point is that there can be story lines and ideas developed from even something as small as one line.
Recently I began working with a couple of friends on a new story adventure and as we were tossing out ideas, I realized that it’s those quick one line items that can work great at developing stories. Just talking about a storyline with your friends, your family and throwing around ideas can help you discover a new idea for a scene or for a plot point. They can help you discover a new character.
The ideas don’t have to be perfect. They may not even be what you want when you first come up with them. The secret is to let them percolate in your brain. Think them through and consider the good points or consider the characters who might work for that particular idea. Sometimes it’s the character who will give you the idea. Is there someone who either infuriates you or excites and energizes you? What is it about that person that sets you off in a particular direction. Plots often come from characters or characters come from plots, but either way, the ideas around both don’t just explode. Often it takes a little bit of thought to make them work. You just need to open your mind and let them in.
Story ideas, characters and situations are all around us and as long as we remain open to them, we will find them. Or they may find their way to us. Just as my dad eventually realized that crazy little mouthed kid wasn’t going away and he realized she was actually amusing and clever, you can find that story ideas can be floating around you. All you have to do sometimes is stop, listen and look. Take the time, and then go for it!