How to get story ideas
Since many budding writers ask this question, here is my take.
Stories are everywhere, all around you, because every single human being has a story. Then why, as writers do we often struggle for a story idea?
You might remember (or heard from your parents) that in the 70s and 80s, television sets operated with the help of a roof-top antenna. At times, one had to climb up there and adjust it, until someone from below would yell, “Haan, reception aa gaya hai.”
In the same way, a writer has a ‘story antenna’ which can catch the amazing characters, plots and situations flying all around her. But having the antenna is not enough, it needs to be tuned. Meaning you train your brain to recognise a story when it comes your way.
For example, you may be sitting in a bus, and two people behind you are having a fight. You don’t know who they are but start imagining. Is it a husband and wife? How long have they been married? What are they fighting about?
The conversation might give you a clue, or you simply use your imagination.
You get off the bus and forget about these strangers. But a month later, or years later, you are writing a story about a couple who don’t get along. One of the scenes takes place in a bus. You are able to bring it alive by recalling that overheard conversation.
So, essentially, a writer is a collector of memories, impressions and fragments of trivia. All of which is churned around by her subconscious mind to combine into a unique and interesting story. Let me give you an example.
I read an article online about a man and a woman who fell in love in Italy, during coronavirus. They saw each other during one of those famous ‘balcony concerts’ and 2 weeks later, they were engaged. This was the genesis of story #3 on this website.
I started thinking – who could these two lovers be? What is their back story? Are they Italian, or could one of them be a tourist who got stuck there. And while I was tossing these questions around, Ted from ‘How I Met your Mother’ came to my mind.
The tourist became Ted, a sweet, well-meaning guy but unlucky in love. Next question: what could be the series of unlucky events in his life, before he came to Italy? And here, I let my imagination go wild. Without thinking, ‘oh, this is not logical’.
This is the 3rd important quality a writer must have.
Allow the idea to develop a life of its own. I think this is what really takes time (not effort because it’s about putting NO effort). Time because you are stuck in the belief that ‘I’ am the writer. Whereas you are only the channel.
To sum it up, a writer gets ideas when she cultivates the following qualities:
- Curiosity: observe people, notice things, travel, read books and newspapers – and file the interesting bits away in your mind. So you can access them someday in the future.
- Imagination: put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Why does he act this way? How does his mind work? What was this person like, as a child? If nothing, you will become a more empathetic person!
- Combination : start writing from your conscious mind but then, allow the subconscious to take over. Your story will be richer and more authentic. It will go beyond the obvious. As I said, this may take time. Or, it can come to you very easily. It just depends how open you are.
My last piece of advice: write for fun, write because it gives you a kick. What comes out of it, who reads or publishes it, is not important. It is not a goal, or a race, or something to put on your C.V.
Writing is a form of meditation. Connecting you with yourself and the power of the Universe.