Where I Get Story Ideas

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I find bits of story ideas from history, from news, from something I did or heard or saw, and from nightmares or by daydreaming.

I wrote my first historic novel from a fascinating bit of news I heard which happened in 1873. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and what it must have been like to have gone through that event and in that setting. So I researched and wrote about it.

I’ve had nightmares and scary visions of the end times lately — of man destroying this world not by nuking it, but by greed, causing gushing oil to ruin the water world we live on. YIKES. Some things are too close to reality for me to write about! I’m very thankful that after 86 days BP finally found a solution which seems to have stopped the leak in the Gulf of Mexico. What the effect of all that oil damage is yet to be seen. (Even more daydreaming fodder.)

Yesterday, my husband and I drove through what we later found out was a thunderstorm watch. But I wasn’t watching. Mostly, I had my eyes closed! Instead of going 75 on the interstate, people who hadn’t pulled over (like my husband and a truck driver or two) were driving 40 mph in the sideways pelting rain, gripping onto the steering wheel which the wind threatened to take control of. Lots of interesting story ideas could come from that experience alone. However, I’ll share here on my writing blog a really fascinating thing I saw for the first time in my life. That is, to me it was fascinating, and therefore writing fodder.

We were heading west. As we came out from under the storm, although it was still raining, we hit sunlight and blue skies. My husband commented, “There’s got to be a rainbow somewhere.” I knew that in order to see a rainbow, you needed two things: sun and rain, and that the sun had to be at your back. Because of our van roof, my vision was very limited. I looked out my side rearview mirror and found my rainbow. It was following us. The rainbow was made in the spray shooting up from our tires turning on the wet road.

There are ideas all around each of us. Storytellers can’t help thinking, reflecting, weaving. It’s half of the fun of being a writer.

How To Write When There Are Others Around, Part IV — 1 More from Darcy Pattison

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In Darcy Pattison’s “Fiction Notes,” she addressed this very topic this week. There are too many other people to list who have also given suggestions. Gee. Sounds like a book idea! Wait. There are probably lots of books concerning how to write when there are others around.

One of Darcy’s suggestions is to use pen and paper. I do this so much — even journaling daily in marble notebooks — that I think about this suggestion about as much as I think about being a woman, i.e., it just is a part of me. So, thank you, Darcy, for rattling my brain a bit.

Not long after Hurricane Katrina struck, I headed south on a mission trip with PDA (Presbyterian Disaster Assistance). For the first few days, I helped cut trees and drag branches to the roadside for later pickup and became spotty with gnat and mosquito bites. During our shade-and-drink breaks, I’d whip the small notebook and pen from my back jeans pocket, and write furiously until we started up again. Then, during the leaders meeting, the director of the camp asked if anyone had a writer in their group — to work on the website, write down stories, etc. My fearless leader’s hand shot up, indicating that I was the only one in the group of 90-some volunteers there at that time who was “a writer.” One man from NJ who’d worked with me and the trees that week, confessed he wondered why I hid behind tree trunks scribbling all the time.

The next day, I was left alone in the tent camp, except for my gnat and mosquito friends, staring at the computer. The wall-canvases were pulled to the poles so I could look over my lonely territory. I stared at the screen, tried to organize my notebook thoughts, feeling lonely and deserted and wondering how I could stand the pressure of being the lone writer, and what I would write about first, when who wandered into the shade of my tent, but the big honcho in charge of all PDA camps in the area. Interview time!

I had lots to share with him from my scribbles to bring him up to current speed of the camp, and he gave me lots more to write about, dealing with the camp’s short history.

Robert Louis Stevenson (one of my literary heros) always carried pencil and pad with him and scribbled away notes and snatched bits of conversation. Of course, this was pre-notebook (computer) days. But there are many times when technology is unavailable even today. So… keep those notebooks and journals and a couple of pens (in case one runs out of ink on you) handy.

How To Write When There Are Others Around, Part III — Some More Solutions

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One very important thing I failed to mention concerning writing when there are others around, was/is personal discipline.

Besides my husband working in the den of our house for much of his work, we have company at our house now — for about 10 days. I’ll have a 3-day break at the end of next week before we get in a different set of company (family — hurrah!) for two weeks. I’ll have company in our house 24-7 for most of this month. It’s a might distracting for the writer.

It’s now 7 days into the month. How much writing have I gotten done so far this month? Confession: very little. Excuse: entertaining guests and traveling to touristy places. However, I have done some writing, and I’ll share the reflections of my experiences.

How to write when there are others around? Unfortunately, I’m not rude enough to shut myself up behind a closed door. Besides, when I do that, I inevitably get distracted by laughter from the next room — which I’m SURE was some great writing fodder story which I’ve lost out on. So…

1) Sneak away for a five-minute writing break. It feels glorious. You may feel sneaky and somewhat guilty, but glorious all the same. I know this. I am a writer. I need to write each and every day. If I end up not writing, I make Oscar the Grouch look as singing-sweet as Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

2) When you do get the chance to sneak away, do not — I repeat, DO NOT — spend your glorious writing minutes with checking your email, catching up on FaceBook, LinkedIn, favorite blogs, how far the Gulf Coast tar balls have drifted, etc..

3) Enjoy your company. Relish in visits from family. Love them to pieces. And learn to delegate. (e.g., “Oh, say… how ’bout if you folks clear the table and wash the dishes?” Then go sneak in your cherished writing minutes.)

4) Microize your normal writing goals. (I sure hope I made that word up instead of used some swear word or laser weapon. No time to research it now. Remember? I’ve got company in the next room.) Instead of giving yourself 3 hours to spend in revisions, limit yourself to one chapter a day. Microize your normal writing goals.

5) When company leaves, and there are sheets to wash, floors to mop, toilets to scrub, mountains of laundry to do, etc., don’t forget to work back up to your normal daily writing schedule. W.E.D: Write Every Day.  (Rats! Another made up word.  I sure hope that isn’t some acronym for a porno site. No time to look it up.)

Sticking Out Tongues and Pigtail Pulling

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The other day I was thinking about the naughty things kids used to do just a few decades ago– like, when they got mad at each other, they’d stick out their tongues while “making a face.” Or, if a boy wanted to tease a girl, he’d pull on her pigtail.  The victims tattled, and the offenders got disciplined, usually by staying after school for a certain amount of time.

Flash forward to today — and I know this from recently teaching and subbing in elementary schools in three states. When today’s elementary aged kids get mad, they can threaten lives (“I’m going to kill you.”), they say words one would need to watch R rated movies to hear, or they grab the opposite sex in “the privates,” with the boldness to lie about it to the adults who witnessed it, and then threaten to sue the teacher and the district if there is any discipline done. And no one can stay after school because most students are bussed.

I have taken razor blades away from a fifth grader, and broken up many fist fights. One parent tried to run me over with her car after school on the day she found out the principal gave her son a three-day in-school suspension. Her son was one of my students. Another parent yelled at me for several minutes in the hallway, defending her first grade daughter for  angrily throwing markers at my back. I know teachers and counselors who will not place their desks near windows for fear of being shot at.

Times are a’changing. No more tongues sticking out nor pigtails getting pulled. Is childhood innocence really a thing of the past? If so, what’s a writer to do?

One could write fantasy, mysteries, or historical fiction. Or best yet, no matter what the genre or age of your reader, write truthfully, and give your readers hope.

Happy, safe writing.

Spell-Binding History for Writing Fodder

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I just read a news report from the BBC about a mass grave found near Weymouth (UK) last June, where construction workers discovered 51 decapitated men, recently determined to have originated from Scandinavia (i.e., Vikings). They were apparently buried naked since no metal objects, nor bone buttons, etc., were found near them.

Many things struck me concerning this article, which has me still reeling in thought. I find that from either point of view (Vikings or Saxons), the story is emotionally charged.

There is the wonder and horror of the Saxons living near the coast, getting invaded by Vikings, probably more than once in order to be so prepared. There is the remarkable capture of 51 men, assumedly warriors. There is the killing by beheading of these invaders, assumedly witnessed by many people. There is the unceremonious mass burial. Then, there is the last line of the article: “Most of them were in their late teens to early 20s, with a handful in their 30s.”

My father-in-law was born in Sweden. My mother-in-law was the only one of her original family not born in England. My mother’s people are from England (5 generations ago). My sons are in their late 20’s. I love being on the sea.

Is there a story in this find? Certainly. Undoubtedly many stories.  Will I attempt to put flesh and blood on the skeletons for a story? Not sure. It’s still too soon after reading the article for me to process the implications, but for some strange reason, the story is hitting very close to home. I can almost see their story, from the boat, from the land. See their faces. See their hopes. See their fears. See the horror. It all flashes before my eyes as if I’m right there, over 1,000 years ago, carrying a video camera on my shoulder, a silent observer in this tragedy-victory. I can’t seem to stop shaking.