Inspiration Sources

Objects hidden in drawers and closets or stuffed on garage shelves can be the inspiration for good stories.

Think about some of the things you have stuffed deep in the back of your closet. Old shoes worn on a hike to the top of Yosemite Falls? A sparkly dress from your high school prom? A pair of pants that you wore when you weighed 100 pounds more than you do now?

The stories these objects would tell are priceless.

Prom night might have been a disaster. Your date showed up late, and instead of wearing a tux, he borrowed a too-big suit from his older cousin. It hangs like a robe and in spots, is shiny from use. He wore his old tennis shoes, scuffed and dirt splotched.  No tie. Wrinkled pink-dyed shirt from when a pair of his sister’s panties went through the white wash.

At the dance, he drank heavily, spiking the punch with a flask he had tucked into his inside pocket. The more he drank, the more uninhibited his unskilled dancing became. He laughed and talked so loudly that everyone in the room heard every word he slurred out.

Or maybe you want to write about that hike. It was a gorgeous spring day with billowing clouds hovering overhead. At first the walk was a gentle climb, but as time passed, the path turned to gravel and the elevation increased. Then you hit a section a switchbacks so sharply pitched that, at each turn, you had to stop to gather breath and strength.

When you finally made it to the top, your view was blocked. A tree/cloud/crowd got in your way. Or maybe you were too afraid of heights to look out. Or maybe you collapsed from exhaustion.

Your task is to go on a search of your house or apartment. Look deep into the darkest corners. Push aside the t-shirts you no longer wear. Find one thing that carries you back into your past.

Hold it. Smell it. Cuddle it. Sit in a chair with it in your lap and feel the fabric. The stiches. The hem. The collar.

If shoes, turn them over and look at the soles. Imagine where they’ve been. The places they’ve carried you to. The troubles they’ve seen.

And then write. Tell the story. If you want, you can stick to the truth, but if you feel inspired, embellish. Add details and dialogue and action, enough to make the story interesting for others to read.

When you finish, reread. Look for areas where you can strengthen the story by subtracting, adding or replacing.

Have fun with this one!

 

People Watching

Can’t think of a character, setting or problem? Go somewhere and sit for a while.

Choose a place that is heavily trafficked. A shopping mall, park or busy street in a commercial district.

Bring a notebook with you as well as a camera. When you see an interesting character, take a picture, but also record how the character walks, what he is carrying, whether or not he is on the phone, and if he is walking alone.

Give the character personality. For example, maybe she’s a CEO of a start-up company and is hurrying off to a meeting that she’s worried about. Perhaps she has a sick child at home or just got a call from her daughter’s teacher.

Describe the setting. Is it bland or colorful? What types of buildings? Tall skyscrapers or low slung town homes. A park with green grass and flowers in bloom, or a snow covered field. Blue sky, pouring rain or skittering clouds.

Then take a look for another potential character and do the same.

Each time imagine the story that the character has to tell. Jot down ideas. Did he have a happy childhood or were his parents abusive? Does she keep in contact with her siblings or are they distant? Why?

When you get home, think about the stories you can tell. Begin writing. Use a stream of conscious flow of words. Let the story tell itself.

At the end, reread and look for places where you can embellish or deepen the conflict. Edit out unnecessary words. Add dialogue that develops the character’s personality.

When you are finished, you will have an original story. Plus, you will have enough information to write a few more!

Have fun with this one.

Love Poems

Throughout all of time, love poems have been a popular form of expression whose sole purpose is to entice the desired partner to fall deeply in love with the writer.

These poems express the writer’s most intense feelings, in a way that bares the heart in raw form.

Poems can be written in free verse, meaning that they don’t have to rhyme, but are more of a stream of consciousness. Or poems can rhyme, following patterns established long ago.

It’s up to the writer.

Your task is imagine that your character is in love and wants to write something that will show how much she loves her chosen one.

Don’t worry about rhyme or meter unless that is something that you want to explore. Instead allow the words to flow freely, running down the page like a stream runs bubbling down the creek.

Have fun with this one.

Parental Interference

As kids, especially as young adults, our parents often embarrass us. They speak when we wish they were silent. They wear dumb hats or clothes so out of style that even thrift stores wouldn’t want them. Or their clothes are faded, ragged or torn. Or spotted with paint or cooking grease.

Our parents want to know who are friends are, where they live, what they like to do, what kinds of music they listen to and what they do for fun, all before we can go hang out with them. Or when a friend knocks at the door, our parents treat them like unwanted guests, giving them a thorough oral examination while you’re trying to gather together your stuff and get out of the house.

On gift-giving opportunities, they present us with things we never asked for, never wanted, and expect us to act grateful. They demand we complete chores that are gross and demeaning, such as doing dishes in the sink where the water gets tainted with food remnants and grease, all because they think doing such things help develop character.

They make us babysit younger brothers and sisters without pay. It’s not too bad if the sibling behaves in public, but when your sister pesters everyone about their favorite Disney character or sings, out of tune, Disney songs, then you’d rather stay home. But if you do, then they insist that your friends come over and hang out with your dorky brother who thinks it’s perfectly fine to jump up from behind the couch and scare your boyfriend.

Your task is to write a scene in which there is either an embarrassing moment with a parent or guardian, or a time when a sibling causes great humiliation.

First, make a list of things parents/guardians do that are embarrassing. Then make a comparable list for siblings. Running parallel to each list, record the scene, the object, the action that causes humiliation.

Draw a line from the person to the point of humiliation that you feel most comfortable writing about.

This becomes your story line.

Write, trying to show the emotions that propel your protagonist forward. Your story can be humorous or serious, depending upon the cause of the humiliation. For example, falling out of a tree can be embarrassing at the moment that it occurs, but if bones are broken, then the final result is quite serious.

After you’re finished, reread, looking for places where you can intensify the emotional impact.

Have fun with this one.

Natural Disasters

Some believe in a Mother Nature who clearly has a mind of her own. If often feels that way when unforeseen things happen causing great devastation.

For example, yesterday on the news I saw footage of a huge landslide that oozed down a mountain, blocking a major freeway going up the coast of California. I also saw videos of tornadoes and flooding that destroyed countless homes. Then there are the massive fires in Florida.

We could also consider the effects of hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes, to name just a few more.

Imagine your character faced with one of these disasters. What would she do? Think? Feel? Would she tremble and cower or take action, stuffing family possessions into the car and bolting away? Would she hide in the bathroom and pray or run down the street, begging for help?

How your character reacts tells us a lot about his personality.

Your task is to first make a list of possible disasters. I would stick to ones you have either experienced firsthand or know a lot about. Try to get at least five things on that list.

Next, narrow it down to the top two that you feel most comfortable writing about. In your mind, place your character in the midst of these two disasters. In which one would her reactions be most viable? Which would allow you to create the most dramatic story?

Once you’ve figured out the disaster, come up with the story line. Where is your character and what is he doing when the disaster is about to hit? What steps does she take when she knows it is coming?

What does he do right before it hits, while it is going on, and then immediately after it ends?

This is the story you will write. When you are finished, reread, looking for places where you can strengthen emotional reactions. Where the setting needs spicing up. Then edit.

Have fun with this one.

Leisure Activities

What does your character like to do for fun? It’s an important criteria to consider when creating a given character, for such activities influence the events of the story.

For example, if your character began swimming competitively as a child and still swims today, then when he has free time, he’ll choose to go to the pool. It also means that he could use his skills to solve a crime or create a crime.

Scrapbooking is a huge business right now. Many people love to organize photos and memories into these books, pasting in not just pictures, but also decorations that support a given theme. If one of your characters likes to scrapbook, then the finished products could be used to search for a missing child, decorate a hall for a banquet, or evidence to convict a criminal.

Your task is to create a list of activities that your character might enjoy. It might be important to stick to those things that you are familiar with, unless, of course, you want to spend time researching. Try to get at least ten items on your list.

Then  willow it down to the top five.  Embellish these five by listing when and where and with whom the activities take place. For example, swimming could be a solitary activity, or it could be team-based if your character continues to compete today.

From this expanded list settle on one that feels most like your character.

Now write a scene in which she prepares to participate in this activity, or tells someone about it, or tries to convince someone else to join in. Don’t flood the reader with details about the activity, but rather let the reader experience it through the eyes of the character.

Have fun with this one.

Physical Limitations

While it’s nice to think that our characters have perfectly healthy bodies, it is not necessarily accurate. Throughout life we suffer illnesses, break bones, have accidents that leave scars, and lose teeth.

It is important that our characters reflect human frailty. They have to be real people who experience real downfalls.

Because people with physical limitations populate our earth, we need to consider including them in our stories. Think about how a scene might change if a wheelchair-bound person is a major player. We would have to make sure that our spaces are compliant with the law and so accessible to our character. That means ramps where there are stairs, wide doorways into bathrooms and down halls, and perhaps having an assistant to help with some tasks.

What if it’s a temporary disability such as a broken right arm? How does the character drive,  brush teeth and hair, get dressed, use the restroom?

These are all real-life issues that come into play. Personally, I’ve broken fingers, an arm, and two different legs. Each of those breaks caused difficulties for me. For example, when I broke my ring finger, my wedding band had to be cut off in the emergency room. Not a huge imposition, but it was upsetting to lose my ring.

Your task is to write a story in which one of your characters has a disability. You have to decide whether it is permanent or temporary and how it impacts the character’s life.

Have fun with this one.