Where do story ideas come from anyway?

Recently a friend indicated that she’d like to write a story or book, but it’s tooo hard to come up with ideas (and yeah, it totally sounded whiney like that). You need a big imagination! She lamented. Yeah, okay, writing fiction requires lots of imagination and I don’t deny that I have a wonderful imagination. I love to make up stories about people. What better pastime to occupy yourself with while people watching and drinking a beer? But there’s more to it than that. What about plain ‘ol experience? Doesn’t that count for something? Not all of my story ideas come from my imagination. I actually get a lot of writing fodder from life experiences and my somewhat crazy personality. I’ve boiled it down to the following:

  • Vocation. I always say I’ve lead several lives and it certainly feels like that when I look at the vastly different types of ‘careers’ I’ve had. I’ve managed a store at a sports stadium, been a military policewoman, practiced law, and owned a bed and breakfast – to mention a few. And what a wealth of anecdotes I’ve gained to use as story ideas! I even wrote a whole book about Army basic training (Unforeseen Consequences). But everyday work experiences can also lead to your next writing project
    • Practicing law. Being a lawyer is not all hours and hours of reviewing boring contracts – although there’s certainly enough of that! I also spent a lot of time negotiating contracts and that sometimes resulted in some pretty weird situations. I once ended up locked in a board room at the opposing counsel’s law firm in the middle of the night. Luckily, they did send food in for us.
    • Owning a bed and breakfast provided a plethora of experiences for my writing. I’ve found condoms (used and not used) and thongs. I’ve seen every type of body fluid there is soiling the sheets and dirtying the bathtubs. I’ve gotten hit on from people from all over the world. I was once even offered money when I turned the man down! I still can’t believe some of the crazy things guests said over breakfast. And – proving once again that life is crazier than fiction – the lives some of the guests had lead were sometimes truly fascinating and definitely eye opening.
  • Aging. I like to write books with characters who are over 30. Being a middle-aged woman myself, I can tell you there is just a ton of weird shit that starts happening to your body once you hit 40. You can scream and cry about it or you can laugh and make an anecdote for a book. I choose the latter.
  • Ex-pat living. I grew up in the U.S. and have lived in several states, but I’ve also lived in Germany, the Netherlands, and Turkey. We’re actually currently on the look-out for our next posting. In addition to the sometimes strange cultural differences I encounter, I meet a lot of people moving from country to country. I may not want to make friends with all the strange people I meet, but they certainly provide a lot of fodder for characters in my novels.
  • Dreams. When I wake up from dreaming that I purposely goaded a dictator into having me killed and his hit squad chased me through an amusement park trying to take me out on roller coaster after roller coaster, I can call the nearest mental hospital to see if they have any openings or I can use the dream as the starting point for a story.
  • Living life to the fullest. I am genuinely one of those crazy people who takes life by the horns and rides. I’ve done everything from running drunk through the desert to spending the night in jail to getting into a bar room brawl. But you don’t have to be a total crazy person like me to use life experiences in your stories. After all, it isn’t very believable if every character in a novel is going balls to the wall. You can use small personality traits as well.
  • Being a klutz. In Murder, Mystery & Dating Mayhem, the heroine is a total klutz. Many of the hilarious situations she finds herself in are actual events I experienced and survived.
  • Low self-esteem. Having low self-esteem often results with me trying to show off how strong I am to people (It’s not all fat – there’s muscle too!). So it’s not a strange occurrence for me to grab a beer from a man and try to wrestle the cap off of his beer bottle – especially if it’s not a twist off. Then, I have to spend the entire evening pretending like my hand is not killing me.

If you’re having a difficult time coming up with ideas or characters or storylines, take a look at your life and experiences. You can use even the most mundane every day occurrences as a starting point for your writing. There’s a wealth of anecdotes just waiting for you to pluck them from your memory.