97 A Written View

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Places to Find Story Ideas –  by Doug Owen

DougHeader-webStuck in a rut? Having a hard time figuring out a story? Just not able to make your character’s voice sound right? These questions make every successful author shudder.

This month we’ll examine a number of places where being a fly on the wall will help you fix those problems. The interesting thing is, you already have the tools to do so.

Extraordinary from Ordinary

Sorry, but there is no guaranteed laugh. No universal joke. People are your building-blocks, which can be used to take everyday situations and spin them into bizarre confrontations. The supermarket, the customer service queue, a council meeting, and the corner store can all be unlikely places to find humor.

Your best tool is observation. Take an old North American couple in a grocery store seeing a dragon Fruit for the first time, or a young kid getting an artichoke and not knowing how to prepare it. Small issues like this could fuel the imagination for how reactions might go.

Lurk and hover, just make sure you leave personal space so no one calls security. Hunt out small incidents, trivial exchanges, mannerisms of note and bring them forth in your own time. The woman who lost her receipt for the panties, the older man dressing down a politician, the young couple picking over organic corn… Turn their world upside down. Put in a “What if?” and see what happens.

Want an even better idea? Look at the Sunday Comics and see how they take an ordinary issue and turn it on its head.

Little Lives and Pomposity

Who doesn’t find humour in people? It is easy to see; just take a chance and talk with them, like I do. Heck, snobs, gossips, know-it-alls, jobbies, it is so much fun to find out what makes them tick, and your funny bone will tickle. How can you not laugh at their follies? Play God with them! Find someone ridiculous and base your character on them. Be kind, but shatter their illusions, prick their pomposity and rattle their promiscuity.  Never sneer, refrain from judging, but always display their weakness and obsessions.

Spy vs. Snoop

Record the dull situations as if they are gold. Think of those endless speeches, presentation events, office dinners, everything we all need to endure in the corporate world. Don’t pass up these opportunities to unveil the surreal. Think of the nodding heads, vacant eyes and imagine, during an office party, strippers appearing dressed as police arresting the CEO, only to find out the bachelor party’s next door. Maybe the father of the bride’s speech is delivered in rap, or the woman’s more than 50 curling trophies get mixed up with the porn awards.

My wife cringes when I go wandering off at parties to eavesdrop shamelessly. My cell phone becomes my jotting pad for snippets and anecdotes picked up from people of all ages talking. Sorry, those notes are private and mine. Find your own material; there’s more than enough to go around.

Don’t forget Social Media. There you can snoop on someone’s wall and pick out the best things in the world. Like the cousin who types without periods, or the ranting of a teen with a limited attention span. Gems, I tell you.

The Best Lines are Stolen

You’ll always know a strong character because they announce themselves. What more description do you need, when someone comes out and says, “My mind is an opened movie,” or “Snow never sleeps”? “What star are you?” See the humor or possible conflict.

Malapropism can add laughter to any work. I remember when selling cars someone asked for a “hunch-back.” Or the person looking to join the “Village-auntie group.” How about when someone says, “I have a paranoid camera”? Try, “My car is a nice colour of Mongolian.” My brother said once that he suffered from “high collateral.”

All of these are out there, ready for you to pick and put into your writing. Serious is fun, especially when people really think they’re saying the right thing.

Oddballs Should Be Cultivated

Eccentrics are amazing to be around, and you should make a bee-line for them whenever possible. Think about it; how many episodes of “People of Walmart” have you watched? Are they really that far off the beaten track that people just need to see them? How about those videos of strange things people do? The man dancing by the pool in a speedo comes to mind. Every one of my relatives shared that, because he really did look like my cousin George (and it might have been him for all I know).

When people do outlandish things, make a note of it. Not to blackmail them later (though it could be another source of income when your writing is just starting to take hold), but to use in your own work. The Dancing Fat Dragon, or My Mommy Shops in Her Underwear. All titles of not-so-much for children books.

Private Parts are not so Private

Believe it or not, I cringe when it comes to sex scenes. Not due to lack of knowledge, just because they are really private things that, unless you swing with a crowd, are, well, private.

Kristin Talgø, writer of Escaping the Caves, found a great way to write a sex scene without really describing all the intimate details. What she wrote was, “We made love.” Simple. Elegant. Allows the reader to understand what happened without becoming an XXX or erotica novel.

But there is a big market for those types of novels. Heck, I remember picking up something like that in my teens and standing there on the bus wondering how many people actually read that trash (still did not put it down; I was a teen, and a boy). The thing to see is how to get around it, but that is for another time, in another article.

One thing I will admit to is the lack of enjoyment when an otherwise-clean narrative degrades into a description of sex. A calm voice starts pumping out vulgar reactions and sounds. Really turns off the writing to me.

So hopefully you will be wandering through Walmart to find interesting creatures for your writing— not becoming the interesting creature in someone else’s next novel!

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