I’m never at a loss for story ideas. At any given time I have at least half a dozen bubbling on my back burner. On the other hand, I deal with a constant demand for more stories to feed the magazines I market to, the books I indie publish, and the stories I write as bonuses for my readers’ group, so I have to keep the idea mill grinding.
As I considered possible topics for this month’s Story Power blog post, I thought it might be fun to take my readers on an idea hunt with me. A sort of story safari. So put on your pith helmet, lace up your boots, and load your rifle. We’re going hunting.
Clips, snips, and helpful tips
Fantastic story ideas live everywhere. I can watch the activity out my front window and pick off several, at a glance. The UPS truck drives by, and I start to think about a fictional deliveryman with nefarious intentions. I live on a wooded golf course, with all the ingredients for a good murder mystery. Weapon—nine iron. Opportunity—around the dogleg and out of sight, on an isolated green. Disposal site—the nearby forest. All my character needs now is a motive, and he’s ready to tee off.
But let’s go down deep, into the jungle of my clip file, and see what’s hiding in there. A few months ago, one of my writer friends sent me an article headlined: Man who stole $1.2 million in fajitas sentenced to 50 years in prison. Okay, I could make something out of that. I gravitate toward the bizarre and hilarious, as well as the tragic and even gruesome. Any one of them could provide a meal, or even a feast for my story-writing pen.
Let’s see what we flush out
Okay, I pick up an article about a flight in Nigeria that was overbooked. To solve the problem, officials made all the passengers run laps around the plane. The seats went to the fastest runners. That could be the kernel of a unique and interesting story. Or it could simply serve to add color.
Here’s an ad: For only $5.00, plus a self-addressed, stamped envelope, you can receive a personalized report revealing the exact date of your death. There are so many directions I could take something like this in developing a story.
How about this? One couple, married for 12 years, decides to divorce. They do it while hurtling toward the earth at 120 mph. With a lawyer, and seven skydiving friends in attendance, they jump out of a plane at 12,000 feet. The divorce papers were handed to the wife during freefall.
Can you see the potential in these little snippets? I simply grabbed three at random. There are scads more.
When food fights back
A Michigan housewife was cleaning the kitchen sink when she was stabbed by a shard of dried pasta. The noodle came from some soup left in the sink by her husband on the previous day. The limp noodle had dried into a sharp and rigid spear which pierced the woman’s fingertip, driving up under the nail where it snapped off. Then, soaking in her blood, the broken piece lodged under her nail began to swell and the woman had to be taken to the hospital for a noodlectomy. This sparks all kinds of ideas for murder most foul, or a humorous, madcap mystery.
An Australian man, golfing on a course several miles from the ocean, was clubbed over the head by a large fish that fell from the sky. Bystanders speculated the fish dropped from the mouth of a seagull flying overhead. I can think of a few useful and intriguing ways to use this snippet.
A girl was killed in Spain when she was walking alongside the road and a fruit truck, packed full of oranges, made a sharp swerve to avoid an accident. As it did so, it capsized, spilling 16 tons of oranges onto the innocent girl. By the time police dug her out, she had perished. A tragic event, but it could inspire an incredible story.
One more round
In California, a man tried to break into a couple’s house through the skylight. It collapsed beneath his weight, tumbling him to the ground. He was injured in the fall, and sued on the grounds that the skylight was unsafe. He won a judgement against the people whose house he attempted to burgle. Wow! There are so many ways I could spin this into a fascinating story.
In Boston, June 1985, Cat Mousam was excused from jury duty because she could not speak English. David Christian, who shared her living quarters commented that it was funny they didn’t disqualify her because she was a cat. In Boston, when people don’t open up for the census taker, the officials add names from doors and mailboxes. David put the name of his cat on his door and that’s how she joined the jury pool. If only she spoke English, she could have served out her civic duty. This one is a jewel!
A man brought up on charges of mooning a couple in Kentucky was ordered to drop his drawers in court. The couple claimed they could identify the culprit by the large mole on his backside. After mooning the judge, the mole-less man was released. Lots of potential here.
Fodder, fodder everywhere
People always ask writers where we get our ideas, but they are literally everywhere. I can’t think of a place I don’t get ideas. Will I ever write a story from any of these starters? Probably not—they have to compete with so many other stories already cooking in my head. But, it could happen.
And if you’re a writer, and any of these story seeds appeals to you, feel free to take it and run with it. The beauty thing is, every story is different because every writer is different. I’m always amazed to see how vastly diverse are the stories that come from a single prompt.
How about you? Do you have a brilliant idea you’d like to share? Want to read a story based on something crazy? Tell me about it in the comments.