The Idea Factory

The class I am taking this summer is about crafting the short story. I've never been a huge reader or writer of short stories, so I thought this would be a good way to step out of my comfort zone and focus on some elements of writing that I want to work on.

Also, in the one month that this summer session meets, we are expected to complete two short stories. Knowing this, I've been greedily gathering as many ideas as possible in the past month, so that I wouldn't end up staring at my blank page crying over my lack of creativity.

I love writing, but I often need a little push to get going. I let too many fears and distractions capsize my joy as a writer. This was another reason I signed up for this class.

The question of "where do you get your ideas?" has to be one of the most frequent questions I've seen asked of authors whenever they give an interview. As if we believe there is some magic formula, some perfect remedy to the quest for story.

I thought about this a lot on the way from class tonight, as I mulled over my story idea for our first assignment. This idea happened to come from a news article I read recently, one that I can't seem to let go of because the tragic end left me with so many questions. And for me, that's where many story ideas come from.


Why did a person do the thing they did? Why did they react a certain way? What was the reason behind their actions? How does it feel to be in that situation?

I want to know more about the human condition, and so when I hear or read about something in the news that I can't quite wrap my head around -- I question it. I wonder. I make things up.

I've always been particularly good at making things up.

I have a file of news stories that grab my attention that I keep for future story writing. And when the news doesn't offer up anything enticing, I have the quirky lifelong pattern of wacky movie-style dreams that feed my stories. I can still remember dreams from my childhood that are as rich and vivid and detailed as any book or movie I've seen. It has created some strange moods upon waking, to be sure, but I almost always write them down and save them.

You never know when you're going to be fresh out of ideas and need to go back to the well to pull up something to sustain you.

And I think that's a big part of what it takes to be a storyteller. A questioning mind, a love of observing the human condition, a desire to find the truth, and perhaps a vivid dream life. And I believe I can use these came concepts to help my young writers mine for ideas. News stories, current events, and observation -- with a questioning mindset at the ready. What about you? Where do your story ideas come from?

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