|Friends and acquaintances often ask
where I get my ideas. Mostly, larger-than-life characters
walk through my brain, playing out the scenes they want
me to relay. When they dont, with all those years
and life experiences behind (and ahead of) me, there is
an absolute multitude of ideas available.
So... what to write? Most of my ideas come from
without - if it happens to me, or someone I know, I write
about it. It makes me a better writer to think about what
goes on around me and fictionalise it. That, for me, is
more challenging than writing from scratch.
Like the time I almost got knocked of
my feet by one of those @#%@ couriers that ride around
the central business district on a pushbike. So what did
I write about? - a feisty young girl (so I bent the truth
a bit!) being knocked over by one of those dastardly
upstarts with his bike.
A friend who lives alone on the corner
of a dark lonely laneway, thought the aliens had landed
when she woke up to flashing red lights in the middle of
the night. She sat up in bed terrified for about fifteen
minutes, cautiously got up, and finally peered out the
window. What did she see? Not aliens, thats for
sure! The house opposite was engulfed in flames, and the
road was jotted with emergency vehicles.
So what did I do? I made it into a
short story. In my version the heroine almost squashed
her cat to death in her terror, fantasised about the
boyfriend shed thrown out - wanting him to protect
her - then bit the bullet and set about searching the
house for the little green men.
Finally, she climbed up on a chair to
look out a high window, and lo and behold, saw flashing
lights. (She didnt need a man after all!) But it
didnt end there; at this stage the reader still
doesnt know whats going on. The heroine
cant believe her eyes, has a second peek, then
mesmerised walks out the front door to join the
neighbours. The reader is still kept in the dark, and the
last sentence finally reveals the true situation.
On another occasion, a very hunky, very
sexy, young soldier began to shed his clothes in front of
me in a car park. (Yes, really!) Unfortunately for me, my
dear husband arrived in the middle of the strip tease and
alerted the hunk, er, soldier, that he had an audience.
The end result being he only stripped as far as his bare
chest. (Damn!!) Naturally, it quickly became a short
story where the soldier peeled off his clothes, item by
agonising item, a silent, mesmerised audience of one
watching. And yes, her husband interrupted.
Letting my cat out at 3am, I opened the
back security door and in my half-asleep stupor thought
what if I opened this door and someone came
flying through the door at me? Okay, I know,
most people dont think well at 3am I do.
Its a great time for me to write. Try it
youll see the world from a whole new perspective. I
would love to set up a comfy chair outside the front
door, or anywhere for that matter, and watch the world go
slowly by. Alas, too dangerous these days. But... what if
you could? What would you see, or better yet, what
would you imagine?
Ideas are everywhere, just waiting for you
to add that little extra ingredient the
Every writer uses different methods, so
I asked around.
Pat Ballard, American author of
"Wanted: One Groom" and other novels with big,
beautiful heroines told me:
"I got the idea for
"Wanted: One Groom" from a newspaper article
that was printed a couple of years ago. A young man was
about to turn thirty, and his friends had been harassing
him to get married, so he told them to run an ad in the
paper, interview the women, and he would marry the one
they picked out for him! They
did, and he did, and the last report I
heard, they had fallen in love. Now that's a real-life
As soon as I read the article, Wanted:
just started writing itself. I had to really work hard to
keep up. I think the same thing happened to someone else,
because just as I got finished
with Wanted: a movie came out with the
same story line, but with a guy doing the advertising! I
was just crushed.
The novel I'm working on now, also came
from the paper. One of my special places to watch for
ideas is the "weird and strange" section of our
Elvina Payet, Australian award
winning short story writer said:
"How I get ideas for short
stories and future novels is easy - life. Seeing everyday
events, such as strangers passing by on the street, or
watching the evening news or reading the papers.
Something may flag my interest as a potential storyline,
while other instances I use the what if
scenario - thereby changing an ordinary event into one
with a twist.
I watch people a lot. Im just
waiting to be told off by someone for staring. But
its great to see their reactions to stimuli
also helps with the emotional intensity in my work."
Jan Durkin, Melbourne Romance
Writers Guild, writes:
"Where do I find ideas? Ive
always liked watching people. People sitting talking to
other people, oblivious to me across the way, listening.
Rude? Probably, but those half
sentences, wrongly interpreted looks and gestures set my
mind ticking. Are they...? Do they...?
TV. Yes, TV. Im a compulsive
documentary watcher and taper. Then there are those
strange, out of context things, like a half-heard
commentary on Gardening Australia about the sex life of
ferns. Give me a break; its been a tough time
lately in Casa Durkin, okay?
Reading. For years all I read for
enjoyment was history, ancient history, Egyptology,
biography, the classics and travel guides. Boring?
Probably, but boy have all those useless facts come in
handy in my writing. And now, since Ive become
addicted to what the Americans call cosy mysteries,
with the occasional romance thrown in for good measure, I
have developed a fully rounded personality. Include here
sanity and insanity, of course.
It helps to have that degree of
insanity (D.I., Melb.) when youre looking for
ideas, because you usually dont have far to look.
The trick in successful idea finding is
to write them down when you get them. Otherwise
youre always looking for the ideas youve
already had and have misplaced. Somewhere."
Marion Loe, Multi-published Short
Story author, also from Australia, says:
"For me, the most important thing
is to pay attention when I get an idea and make a note of
it. This sounds a lot easier than it actually is because
I'm getting ideas a lot of the time and it gets to the
point where I ignore the little voice or the mini video
that plays in my head which is telling/showing me the
Does this sound strange???!!
So, for me, I have to jot the idea
down, and for that I carry a little notebook around with
me (and a pen) and I really make an effort to pay
attention because in a lot of cases, the idea comes from
the side, not directly in my face with trumpet and banner
saying Short Story Idea! or Novel
Are you following this?
Ideas come from everywhere and
anywhere. My antenna is up and open all the
time because you can get them, as you would know, in the
most boring/interesting/unlikely/most likely places. One
thing I find is that when I'm stressed, the ideas don't
flow. Nothing flows. I've been reading about specific
brainwaves that indicate when the brain owner (or does
the brain own the person?) is in creative
mode these always correspond to when the person is
most calm and relaxed. So, from this point of view, I'm
trying to relax more (for some it's gardening, cooking,
walking, meditation, tai chi - you name it).
There's nothing more destructive for
creativity and its connected processes than stress, and
I'm sure you can recall your own examples of this.
If I'm in a bit of an ideas drought or I don't
want to work on anything I've got, I try to trigger ideas
by various word games or reading newspapers and
magazines. One of my most profitable short
stories came from an idea I got reading readers'
letters in a mag.
The main thing is to make a note of the
ideas when they come in. I keep a box that contains old
notebooks, scraps of paper, all sorts of newspaper
articles that have sparked off ideas, and every so often
I sort through it and make a few more notes on others so
that I've always got something to work on.
What I often do with these ideas is
just jot them down, then play the what
if scenario. I write down whatever comes to
mind no matter how ludicrous. Then I'll leave it
for a while, and let it brew. When I come back to it, I
just play around with it some more. It either grows and
develops from this process or it falls away.
But I don't throw it out if it doesn't
work out; I just put it back in the box. Sometimes I've
found the idea is good, it's me that has to develop to
match the idea and do it justice."
author: Cheryl Wright
is an award-winning Australian author and freelance journalist. In
addition to an array of other projects, she is the owner of the
Writer2Writer.com website and the Writer to Writer monthly ezine for
writers. Her publications include novels, non-fiction books,
short stories, and articles. To keep up to date with her
publications and new releases, visit Cheryl’s website