Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ideas for Writing

So you've decided you want to try this writing thing, huh? Great!

Now that you've decided to write, you have to find out what you want to write. Below are several suggestions to kick start story ideas:

I suppose you've heard this adage. GREAT idea. We know more than what we think we do. Take a pad and pen or park yourself in front of your computer and do some prewriting. Ask yourself, "What do I know?" Write down the skills you have, write down the characteristics that would describe you, write down the jobs you have had, the experiences you have had, the failures and successes you have had. It's a long list, isn't it? Maybe you realized that you don't have the best of luck in relationships. Why not write a story about a person with the same trait and try to figure out why? Maybe you realized that you're an extremely giving person and often times, you don't give enough to yourself. Write a story about that character. The point is that everyone has something interesting to write about, and it usually takes just looking inward to find that interesting topic.

We all have fears. We all worry about things. Why not conquer your fears, at least in your writing? Create a character that encompasses one or more of your fears and allow him or her to overcome those fears. Writing is extremely cathartic, and I bet that part of your own fears will decrease once you finish your character's story.

Is there something you always wanted to learn about? Is there an occupation, or a procedure, or a time period you've always been interested in learning about but never had the time or the gumption? TAKE the time now. A novel series I'm working on now centers around police investigations, detective work. I've always been a fan of whodunits, but I didn't know much about the specifics. I bought books on mystery writing and police procedures. I scoured the Internet. I kept a file on my laptop. I immersed myself into something new so that it would sound like I knew what I was talking about. You can do that, too.

I know, I know. Some of us turn the TV off as soon as the 5 o'clock news begins. We only check out the newspaper for sports and the classifieds. By doing so, you're missing a great source of information for potential story ideas. Take the time to flip through your local newspaper. Clip out stories of interest and place them in a shoebox. Keep a running list of topics on your computer. Jot down stories you hear about on the news. One night, you're sitting in your living room, watching the news, and you hear about the man who comes home and kills his girlfriend. All the neighbors swear they were a loving and devoted couple. They were planning their wedding. Horrible real life event and somewhere inside, you might be thinking, why? Why did he kill her? What could have been going on in their relationship for things to end so tragically? Answer your questions through storytelling. Besides, we can't let the Law and Order franchise keep the "ripped from the headlines" strategy all to itself now, can we?

I placed this last because it's a biggie. Because I am a writer, everything I encounter in the world becomes a potential source for a story idea. Sometimes, I just don't know it yet, but I feel it in my gut and in my heart. Example: in March 2004, I was suffering from a bout of writer's block, and I had a story due for workshop in like two days.

I was riding the transit home from school, and we passed a playground. There was a colorful swing set there, and I noticed one particular swing was swaying though there was no one near the set. Instantly, I felt a pang in my heart, then my stomach. I became sad. I was emotionally distraught. The first thought that ran through my mind was, what if I had a swing set but no child to push in the swing? I didn't know what that meant, but it pestered me for the rest of the day.

The following morning, I got up and got back on the same transit to go to school. During the ride, I noticed how the bus took the same route, every 45 minutes. The town I lived in was small; it only had four bus routes. The bus I rode to school drove the circle down around the school and back, from 5 am to 5 pm. I thought to myself, what if I had to drive this route every day and be reminded of "landmarks" that represented happy times in my life when I had a family? My mind was abuzz. The whole day I couldn't function as a teacher or a student. I knew why I had the feelings the day before. I knew that I would write a story about a bus driver whose family died (how, I didn't know until I began writing), and she was forced to drive a route that held memories of her life back when. Oh, and there was also a swing set in her yard that had been attacked by growing grass and weeds because she just couldn't go near it anymore.

I ended up canceling a class and rushing home and within a few hours, I had the short story, "Empty Swings." I had one of my best workshops (the last workshop before I graduated), and I had a story that I knew only I could write because it affected me emotionally, mentally, physically, and in some respects, spiritually. In fact, that story never really left me. About a year ago, I returned to it and developed it into a Christian fiction that I'm currently pitching to agents and editors.

Where do you find your ideas for stories?

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically, and her debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell, will be released June 2010; you can read an excerpt here. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, promoting her debut project, writing screenplays, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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  1. Great list! I especially relate to the last item because that's how I get ideas as well. A writer has an "eye" similar to that of a photographer. The difference is that our lens is our mind, and our camera is our heart.

    Thank you for this entry!

  2. Great suggestions, Shon. I had never thought about writing from my fears. Will have to think about it. Loved reading how The Empty Swing came to be. It is so special when seeing something leads to a story.

  3. Back in the early 1970's I started clipping various news articles that I thought would make interesting story ideas. I make up file folders according to types of stories like disasters-floods, disasters-earthquakes, crimes-murder, people-interesting, people-missing, and so on. I don't clip articles like I used to, but I still have a file with a wealth of story ideas.

  4. Those are great prompts to trigger ideas. I especially like "write what you don't know but want to know." I've also managed to pull a couple of stories (or characters) from dreams I've had.

  5. Good advice, Shon. One of the things I love about writing is that you keep on learning... That's the fun part (aside from being published!)

  6. Steph, I agree with writers having an eye similar to a photographer. Most of my stories start with an image - either real or of the mind, and then I spend a lot of time mentally writing that image until a story is developed from it.

  7. Patricia, I realized that I didn't know much of anything, so if I wanted to grow as a writer, I needed to tap into all that great stuff I didn't know about, LOL

  8. Arlee, I used to do that, too, with news articles. And I keep Post-its all over the place so that if I hear something on the news or in passing, I can take note of it for later.

  9. Maryann, there is this one story I want to write that came from the writing from your fears. It contains those things that when we hear about them, we wince and pray they never happen to us or our loved ones. Trying to get brave enough to get back into that one.

  10. Interesting. I can certainly relate to your story. I think my ideas often start the same way, with something I see and a thought that comes seemingly from nowhere.

  11. Great Suggestions!

    Morgan Mandel

  12. I look at writing about what I don't know as part of my growth as a writer. I can spend ages doing copious research when I'm trying to avoid writing, but yes, I do come out having learned a lot more by taking time to familiarize myself with something before I get to writing.

    My story ideas come at the oddest times, but usually when I'm travelling to and from work.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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