Today I Witnessed a Story |
By Cheryl Wright
Friends and acquaintances often ask where I get my ideas. Mostly, larger-than-life characters walk through my brain, playing out the scenes they want me to relay. When they don’t, with all those years and life experiences behind (and ahead of) me, there is an absolute multitude of ideas available.
So... what to write? Most of my ideas come from without - if it happens to me, or someone I know, I write about it. It makes me a better writer to think about what goes on around me and fictionalize it. That, for me, is more challenging than writing from scratch.
Like the time I almost got knocked of my feet by one of those @#%@ couriers that ride around the Central Business District on a pushbike. So what did I write about? - A feisty young girl (so I bent the truth a bit!) being knocked over by one of those dastardly upstarts with his bike.
A friend-- who lives alone on the corner of a dark lonely laneway-- thought the aliens had landed when she woke up to flashing red lights in the middle of the night. She sat up in bed terrified for about fifteen minutes, cautiously got up, and finally peered out the window. What did she see? Not aliens, that’s for sure! The house opposite was engulfed in flames, and the road was jotted with emergency vehicles.
So what did I do? I made it into a short story. In my version the heroine almost squashed her cat to death in her terror, fantasized about the boyfriend she’d thrown out-- wanting him to protect her-- then bit the bullet and set about searching the house for the little green men.
Finally, she climbed up on a chair to look out a high window, and lo and behold, saw flashing lights. (She didn’t need a man after all!) But it didn’t end there; at this stage the reader still doesn’t know what’s going on. The heroine can’t believe her eyes, has a second peek, then mesmerized walks out the front door to join the neighbors. The reader is still kept in the dark, and the last sentence finally reveals the true situation.
On another occasion, a very hunky, very sexy, young soldier began to shed his clothes in front of me in a car park. (Yes, really!) Unfortunately for me, my dear husband arrived in the middle of the strip tease and alerted the hunk, er, soldier, that he had an audience. The end result being he only stripped as far as his bare chest. (Damn!!) Naturally, it quickly became a short story where the soldier peeled off his clothes, item by agonizing item, a silent, mesmerized audience of one watching. And yes, her husband interrupted.
Letting my cat out at 3 a.m., I opened the back security door and in my half-asleep stupor thought, ‘What if I opened this door and someone came flying through the door at me?’ Okay, I know, most people don’t think well at 3 a.m. – I do. It’s a great time for me to write. Try it – you’ll see the world from a whole new perspective. I would love to set up a comfy chair outside the front door, or anywhere for that matter, and watch the world go slowly by. Alas, too dangerous these days. But... what if you could? What would you see, or better yet, what would you imagine?
Ideas are everywhere, just waiting for you to add that little extra ingredient – the writer's perspective.
Every writer uses different methods, so I asked around.
Pat Ballard, American author of Wanted:One Groom and other novels with ‘big, beautiful heroines’ told me:
"I got the idea for Wanted: One Groom from a newspaper article that was printed a couple of years ago. A young man was about to turn thirty, and his friends had been harassing him to get married, so he told them to run an ad in the paper, interview the women, and he would marry the one they picked out for him! They did, and he did, and the last report I heard, they had fallen in love. Now that's a real-life romance story!
"As soon as I read the article, Wanted: just started writing itself! I had to really work hard to keep up. I think the same thing happened to someone else, because just as I got finished with Wanted: a movie came out with the same story line, but with a guy doing the advertising! I was just crushed.
"The novel I'm working on now also came from the paper. One of my special places to watch for ideas is the 'weird and strange' section of our newspaper."
Elvina Payet, Australian award-winning short story writer said:
"How I get ideas for short stories and future novels is easy - life. Seeing everyday events, such as strangers passing by on the street, or watching the evening news or reading the papers. Something may flag my interest as a potential storyline, while other instances I use the ‘what if’ scenario - thereby changing an ordinary event into one with a twist.
"I watch people a lot - I'm just waiting to be told off by someone for staring. But it's great to see their reactions to stimuli - also helps with the emotional intensity in my work.”
Jan Durkin, Melbourne Romance Writers Guild, writes:
"Where do I find ideas? I’ve always liked watching people. People sitting talking to other people, oblivious to me across the way, listening.
"Rude? Probably, but those half sentences, wrongly interpreted looks and gestures set my mind ticking. Are they...? Do they...?
"TV. Yes, TV. I’m a compulsive documentary watcher and taper. Then there are those strange, out of context things, like a half-heard commentary on Gardening Australia about the sex life of ferns. Give me a break; it’s been a tough time lately in Casa Durkin, okay?
"Reading. For years all I read for enjoyment was history, ancient history, Egyptology, biography, the classics and travel guides. Boring? Probably, but boy have all those useless facts come in handy in my writing. And now, since I’ve become addicted to what the Americans call cozy mysteries, with the occasional romance thrown in for good measure, I have developed a fully rounded personality. Include here sanity and insanity, of course.
"It helps to have that degree of insanity (D.I., Melb.) when you’re looking for ideas, because you usually don’t have far to look. The trick in successful idea finding is to write them down, when you get them. Otherwise you’re always looking for the ideas you’ve already had and have misplaced. Somewhere."
Marion Loe, multi-published short story author, also from Australia, says:
"For me, the most important thing is to pay attention when I get an idea and make a note of it. This sounds a lot easier than it actually is because I'm getting ideas a lot of the time and it gets to the point where I ignore the little voice or the mini video that plays in my head that is telling/showing me the idea.
"Does this sound strange???!!
"So, for me, I have to jot the idea down and for that, I carry a little notebook around with me (and a pen) and I really make an effort to pay attention because in a lot of cases, the idea comes from the side, not directly in my face with trumpet and banner saying Short Story Idea! or Novel Idea!
"Are you following this?
"Ideas come from everywhere and anywhere. My antenna is up and open all the time because you can get them, as you would know, in the most boring/interesting/unlikely/most likely places. One thing I find is that when I'm stressed, the ideas don't flow. Nothing flows. I've been reading about specific brainwaves that indicate when the brain owner (or does the brain own the person?) is in creative mode these always correspond to when the person is most calm and relaxed. So, from this point of view, I'm trying to relax more (for some it's gardening, cooking, walking, meditation, tai chi - you name it).
"There's nothing more destructive for creativity and its connected processes than stress, and I'm sure you can recall your own examples of this. If I'm in a bit of an ideas drought or I don't want to work on anything I've got, I try to trigger ideas by various word games or reading newspapers and magazines. One of my most profitable short stories came from an idea I got reading readers' letters in a mag.
"The main thing is to make a note of the ideas when they come in. I keep a box that contains old notebooks, scraps of paper, all sorts of newspaper articles that have sparked off ideas, and every so often I sort through it and make a few more notes on others so that I've always got something to work on.
"What I often do with these ideas is just jot them down, then play the ‘what if’ scenario. I write down whatever comes to mind – no matter how ludicrous. Then I'll leave it for a while, and let it brew. When I come back to it I just play around with it some more. It either grows and develops from this process or it falls away.
"But I don't throw it out if it doesn't work out; I just put it back in the box. Sometimes I've found the idea is good, it's me that has to develop to match the idea and do it justice.”
Cheryl Wright is a member of the Melbourne Romance Writers Guild, Australian Chapter of the Romance Writers of America, Crime Writers Guild Unlimited, Writeangles, and the Short Mystery Fiction Warehouse. She writes poetry, novels, non—fiction articles and short stories. ‘Arms of a Stranger’ - her current WIP - is a romantic suspense. Visit Cheryl’s website at: http://www.cheryl-wright.com.
This article originally appeared in the June 2001 edition of “Romancing the Word” (The Melbourne Romance Writers Guild newsletter) and is republished with permission of the author.
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