Beginning writers always want to know Where do you get your ideas? The answer is simple. Everywhere. I once read that by the time you reach age forty, you have enough life experience to write stories for the rest of your life, and I believe this is true. What you need to learn is how to mine that information and turn it into something interesting. Start thinking like a writer. Start asking the questions. What is he doing? Why? Will the results be good or bad? What’s going to happen next? What if?
Recently I spent the better part of a week in another state. It started with a long plane ride and ended with an even longer layover in Salt Lake City. I could have whined and paced. I could have stuffed my frustration with Big Macs. Instead, the writer in me came home with a suitcase full of ideas that may or may not turn into interesting stories.
On the puddle-jumper taking me from Twin Falls to Salt Lake City, I sat beside a man on his way to a dairy convention. He talked the entire time, and I learned that he was an Idaho transplant. So I wondered. What inspired him to move to southern Idaho? How did that impact family he left behind? Was he happy with his decision? Okay, the answers to these questions might be simple, but what if . . . he was the black sheep of the family and had a dark secret that kept threatening to come out. What if he changed his identify and moved to an obscure farming community several states away and met someone he couldn’t forget? What if he didn’t mean to fall in love? What if he didn’t mean to settle down or raise cattle, to which he had a deathly allergy, but there he was? The story possibilities are endless.
I was crossing a busy street in downtown Minneapolis. There was no park nearby. A small dog darted across the road and I watched it sniff its way down the block and around the corner. Where was the dog’s owner? What was the spotted dog doing in the middle of a busy street? What if the dog’s name was Sparky and he was having his own marvelous city adventure?
On the way home I had a six-hour layover in Salt Lake City. That gave me lots of time to sit and watch people. As a writer, the first thing I notice is what other people are reading. Which book, what author? Why? What if the man sitting beside me is a serial killer and he is reading a book called Clancy has a Gun? Why is the lady across the isle reading Alice in Wonderland? Is she planning a tea party with her granddaughter when she reaches her destination? Or the punk kid with his iPad. Is he reading or playing a game? What and why?
It’s really that simple. Story ideas are everywhere. All you have to do is sit back, observe, and ask What If? and Why?