“San Diego man arrested for taking 2-year-old inside elephant exhibit at zoo.”
“Bodies of two hikers found at Acadia National Park in Maine.”
“Uber driver charged with kidnapping after allegedly trapping woman in car in Boston.”
These were some news headlines today.
Real life provides ample opportunities for writers to come up with ideas for their first or their next novel.
The truth is that real life can be odd and crazy events are happening all the time. Paying attention to life and taking notes of things that jump out at you may provide just the inspiration you were looking for.
A headline the like the ones above can spark an idea. Writers may not necessary write about the event that happened as it happened, but it has happened to me that I needed “something” and a real event provided the something I was looking for.
In my novel That Was Then, I needed a problem, a catastrophe, or an event where the male protagonist of the novel could be a hero. He could be the man the heroine believed him to be. The year I was writing this novel, we were having heavy rains and our drains could not keep up with the downpour. Our streets started to flood. I live on an incline so water rushes down the hill when we have heavy rains and flows down to a normally dry riverbed. But before the riverbed there is an older community with about 100 homes. Unfortunately, these homes were overrun with water and mud. Many homes were destroyed.
I decided that this was the disaster that I would use for my book. When I did some research, I found out that our city historically has these types of floods. Since my novel takes place in a fictional city just like mine, I wrote the climax scene where the water rushes unexpectedly and while people are being evacuated, the hero gets his daughter and her boyfriend out of the house safely, but he gets trapped by the water and mud and gets carried away.
What I did was play the “what if” game. I took the event the really happened and expanded on it. In real like, no one was hurt, no one was trapped in their homes. The homes did get overrun with water and mud, but everyone had time to get out.
When authors pay attention to news, typically not the main articles in most publications because those all seem to be centered around big national or world events. The secondary articles provide better and more interesting reading.
Even if they don’t spark an immediate idea for a novel or do not help with the current book, keep what you read in mind or take notes, because it could become a useful idea to use in the future.
Other Real-Life Places to Find Ideas
Of course, news publications are not the only places to find inspiring ideas. People watching and eavesdropping should be every author’s pastime.
I remember writing in a café and a guy in the next booth was talking about his wife. He married an immigrant and complained that he didn’t think she really loved him. That she was so mean to him, and he feared that he was being used. Sometimes it feels uncomfortable when you overhear other people’s conversations, but they are also stories can spark ideas.
My overactive writer’s mind immediately began spinning tales and wondering who the man was and what could have led him to be in a loveless marriage. I did not write a book about this because it wasn’t a hook or a story I wanted to explore but watching and listening to people offers writers insight into how real people think and act.
Writers shouldn’t overlook their own lives. Writing about people we know or experiences we’ve had can feel uncomfortable and writers might shy away from that but being inspired by events in our lives is different than writing exactly what happened. We leave that to the memoirist. Novelists use real events to ignite ideas in their minds.
If we pay attention to the things that happen to us or those around us, we could probably have enough writing material to fill up a few novels. In my children’s high school, a teacher was arrested for having sex with a student and ending up pregnant. She served one year in prison, then got out and married the boy who had sued the school district and won a crazy amount of money.
We sadly had a terrorist attack and mass shooting at a non-profit center that provides services to people with developmental disabilities in a neighboring city less than ten miles from my house.
But events do not have to be huge. In our lives everyday we experience family and friends with traumas, diseases, lost jobs, lottery winnings, birth of multiple babies. We have endless stories that can inspire either a scene or an entire book.
To keep and save these stories, it’s a great idea to create a file on our computer and label it “Story Ideas” then fill it up with notes and story headlines, overheard conversations. All of these experiences we witness or learn about can go into this folder where we can access it later when we need it.
Some story ideas come from inside us. Most of my books came from a central idea I had or a theme I was interested in such as finding your identity. But real life has definitely inspired events that happen in my books. The secret to finding these ideas is to stay open and aware of what is going on around us locally and worldwide.