Where do stories come from?



If you are not a writer, or have never yet put pen to paper, it is not surprising if you ponder the idea ‘where do stories come from’?

If you are a writer, you’re probably not wondering where they come from, but where the hell did all the good ideas go?


You can bet your sorry little ass, that for that insy winsy split second, when the most amazing idea for a blockbuster – ‘5 million copies sold’ novel – comes silently floating into your brain, it just as inconsiderately slips right back out again. And you don’t remember one itty bitty bit of it.

If you have read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, you will have read of her concept that ‘ideas’ are their own thing, and are buzzing around the world waiting until the right person opens up for them and allows them space to grow.

This is a unique concept and not everybody might agree on that point. However, Elizabeth Gilbert does use it to explain why more than one person happens to come up with the same idea at the same time. Perhaps you have even experienced that yourself. You know the thing. You’ve been mulling over a story idea for ages, you meant to get on with it, and then bingo! You find it’s the current plot line in Eastenders, or Downton Abbey,  or Dr. Who, or whatever else you watch.

Now, if you don’t go along with this idea of floating plot lines etc whizzing through time and space, then where do they come from? And if they don’t magically appear in your head, how on earth will you find any at all?

  1. You’re a writer are you not? Be nosy. People watch. Listen in to their conversations – it’s allowed, you’re a writer!
  2. For reasons I don’t quite understand, people tell me things. Seriously (rolls eyes), I mean, I’m a writer, and people feel like offloading their most guilty secrets to me! Really! So I listen, then write a plot line around it. Well, not all of it, but you get the gist. And it is true that people like to tell me stuff. I wish they wouldn’t.
  3. Read the newspapers, especially the trashy ones. It’s amazing what weird and wonderful events happen to other people. And they do say truth is stranger than fiction. But write down any odd thing that takes your fancy.
  4.  This follows on from 3. Job descriptions. I love reading snippets in the local rag about so-and-so, a bricklayer/chimney sweep/ pest control/self-employed personal finance consultant has embezzled his company out of thousands of pounds/brushes/cans of highly toxic chemicals etc. Keep a notebook and make list for jobs/ crimes/names/bizarre events/funny sounding town names etc.
  5. Keep a look out for snappy sounding titles and you could write a short story starting from an inspiring title. I was in the departure lounge at Stansted airport recently, or maybe it was Belfast, well I can’t remember, but it was an airport. We were having a snack in a restaurant and I took a photo of the napkin. It had a snappy logo/statement emblazoned on it, and I thought, wow! I could totally turn that on its head and come up with a totally amazing, bestselling commercial novel that would start a bidding war to end all bidding wars. The napkin said ‘NOTHING TO DECLARE’. Now it was talking about additives and other crap in its food, that it had none obviously, but it was also a bit of a pun because we were in an airport. But I thought to myself, you know, I could turn that on its head and have a crime/psychological thriller novel about a man called Alfred, who worked in Pest Control, who embezzled his company of 100’s of cans of rat poison, and then his wife goes missing. Did he do it? Did he murder her? Or did she in fact, frame him for the job, knowing he’d nicked the rat poison, and actually she had run off with a woman called Maybelline who was a bricklayer from Nether Wallop.  I still think its a good title, but the plot might need a little work. Actually it might make a good short story.
  6. Go online and look for old documents/websites/newspapers. I once followed a link on the PRONI website, and ended up on a highly fascinating site that gave me details of all the shipping records at Derry during the 18th century. And what did I discover? Cases of cannibalism! Uh huh! Who would have thought of that? Sailors used to eat each other. And there were lots of other little snippets that were logged that at first glance might not have been that inspiring, but when you let your mind wander, and open your creative side to a bit of ‘what if?’ your brain starts to imagine all sorts of possibilities.
  7. Or you could try anyone of the many short story or plot generating sites online. This was my amazing bestseller that I rustled up in no time!

    Someone like Doris

    A Sizzling Romance
    by Patsy Chattykins

    Richard Bogtrotter is a weak, pale and understanding police officer from the seaside. His life is going nowhere until he meets Doris Donaldson, a hairy, thin woman with a passion for cookery.

    Richard takes an instant disliking to Doris and the tactless and rude ways she learnt during her years in Scotland.

    However, when a mugger tries to trick Richard, Doris springs to the rescue. Richard begins to notices that Doris is actually rather brave at heart.

    But, the pressures of Doris’s job as a computer programmer leave her blind to Richard’s affections and Richard takes up stamp collecting to try and distract himself.

    Finally, when snotty cleaner, Alison Thunder, threatens to come between them, Doris has to act fast. But will they ever find the sizzling love that they deserve?

    So there you have it.

    7 ideas to find great ideas to write your blockbuster.

    Have you any better ones to beat my sailor cannibal from Derry, or Pest Controller and his sneaky wife, or Doris the skinny baker and Richard Bogtrotter?

    I hope you do.