Getting Ideas from Total Strangers

Friday, May 23, 2008
Writers often hear the question "Where do you get your ideas?" The more famous you are, the more often you probably hear it. We can get ideas and find inspiration from so many different places. Maybe you read the newspaper every day to spark a story idea or you tackle a tried-and-true storyline from a fresh angle. It doesn't matter where the ideas come from, it only matters that you use them wisely.

One of my favorite ways to get ideas is to people watch. For one thing, it gets me out of the house and out of what can be solitary confinement. You can go to the park, the bookstore, coffee shop, mall...anywhere that a large and varied number of people are likely to be. Then just sit and watch them (but don't be obvious!).

Although these people are total strangers and I don't know a thing about them, I make up stories based on what they're doing or eating or drinking. The woman playing with her baby? She can either be a stay-at-home-mom who loves to read and garden in her spare time or she can be incredibly unhappy and on the verge of divorcing her husband. Why is she ready to leave her husband? That's where it gets interesting...maybe she discovered he was unfaithful or maybe she's romantically involved with someone else. Perhaps his family has never accepted her and now that she's a mother, she can't stand to have her daughter grow up in such an environment. The point is to generate ideas and it doesn't matter how ludicrous they are; you're simply gathering them and hopefully, can use them to start a fresh piece of work.

Because I often sit in my house working, with little to no interaction with the outside world, I like it when I can get out and look at something new and interesting. People really are fascinating, whether they're walking their dogs or talking on their cell phones, listening to music or sipping coffee and reading. I'm still involved in a solitary activity, but I'm not holed up in my office, which is refreshing.

Ideas and inspiration are everywhere. It's just up to us to find them.


Anonymous said...

People watching is a GREAT way to get ideas for stories. You can observe a situation and then let your imagination run wild.

I also get amazing ideas from "girls night out". It's not often that we girls get together for a night of fun - between work, children, life, etc. - but when we do...oh boy! As we start telling stories (either past or present) one of us is always hollering out, "That would be a great line in a screenplay!".

Shelli said...

My first novel manuscript sprung from me driving down a road and seeing a street sign that said "Gilmer Drive." I thought the name was interesting, and my character popped into my head.

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