I have found that a very strange thing is going on. People like to ask me questions about where I get all my writing ideas. I never know quite how to answer their questions, because the answer just seems obvious.
I have a lot of it, and my imagination has yet to let me down. Yet I realize that sometimes it can elude us when the reality of everyday life pushes in. In other words, we get the dreaded Writer’s Block! *SCREAM*
When this happens, we need to find something that sparks our creative fires. There are several places to look when trying to find this tinder. Something mentioned frequently in writers’ posts is this phrase, “Write what you know.” This is sound advice. Yet always be aware that just because you have no knowledge about espionage does not mean you cannot create a story about spies. A writer needs to simply do her/his research on the topic and add something from their own lives (like origami) to give a personal touch to their writing.
A spy novel featuring secret documents disguised as origami in a worldwide paper-folding competition held at a kabuki theater in Japan.
I picked origami because it once was a hobby of mine as a kid. I picked Japan as the setting since origami originated as a Japanese art, along with kabuki (popular drama featuring song and dance) in keeping with this theme.
I know . . . I know. Just because I have an idea for a story doesn’t mean I have a storyline. Yet this post is step one in gleaning ideas from the imagination when your head is coming up empty for a good plot. Remember; every great story began from a tiny idea. Sometimes the hard part is finding the idea. Here are a few ways that might help get the creative juices boiling.
List all the shows, movies, and books you have watched and read.
I like this because you can place yourself in the scenes. How would you have reacted in those situations? What would you have done? What would you have changed? It is incredible what your imagination can expand upon until you have made a story all of its own. And do not stop there. Write a journal of what happened to you today. Yet also add your own fantasies on what you might have wished happened. Change the dialogue you had with someone, but keep the rest of the scene. Then evolve from this by changing the mood, background, and adding characters.
Heck, you can even list what you ate for dinner last week just to get ideas. Hmm . . . let me go with the food topic and give a sneak peek on how my imagination works.
Chicken and dumplings
Pork and veggies
Sausage and pasta
Let’s stop there. I like that fish part. What words go with fish? Fish and chips. Fish fry. Fish store.
Oh! A fish store, or it could be a marketplace with fishmongers selling their catches. I like the concept of an open market, with stalls everywhere and people mingling. We have the makings of dialogue with this. I am going to stick with the conversation without any descriptive background.
Fishmonger: “Fresh Fish! Fresh Fish for sell! Right off the boat! You won’t find a better quality at a cheaper price anywhere else.”
Woman shopper: “I’ll take three pounds of shrimp, please.”
Fishmonger: “Here you go, ma’am. Anything else?”
Child: “I want to play with the squid!”
Woman shopper: “You can’t play with it right now. Mommy has to get home to cook for the dinner party tonight.”
Fishmonger: “And besides, you never know when a tentacle will grab ya!”
Fishmonger: “Ha-ha! Okay, who is next?”
Man shopper: “I’ll take a whole cod.”
Fishmonger: “Here you go, sir. Thanks for waiting.”
Let’s stop again. I am really enjoying this scene. Most of the conversation is something you would expect to hear at any outdoor market whether you are buying fish, vegetables, or donuts (although I would shop somewhere else if they sold squid next to the chocolate eclairs). Don’t forget that you can go to a marketplace or store and just listen at how people interact with each other. Great plot ideas will come to you. Listen and watch everyone. Take notes.
Now I will get back to this scene. I need to give the characters, well, character. Physical attributes. Personality. Let’s use the dialogue above to help.
A smiling fishmonger with a pleasant attitude because he likes kids. This is the reason he jokes around and does not make any rude comments about the woman holding up the line.
An impatient mother who wishes she had enough time in the day to get everything done. I suspect she has been shopping for most of the morning, with hair strands starting to stick out and her face becoming flushed. And this must be a very important party for her if she is buying that much shrimp.
A bored child since he or she wants to play with the squid. Obviously this is an adult party. The kid would be dragging Mommy home if the party were for him/her. A child’s party would never serve shrimp.
A male shopper who is patient with the woman and child because he did not interrupt or push to get his order in.
This male shopper has intrigued me although his description is sparse. Sure, many writers would go with the woman and child, maybe because they might have experienced something similar to this when shopping with their own kids. This is a good avenue to take with lots of possibilities (party with maybe a boss or an old flame on the guest list). But I do not have kids, and I do not trust myself enough to make up a novel-length story featuring children. I want to walk beside the man. I want to understand his life.
What happens next? Well, he just bought a whole fish and he cannot do any more shopping while carrying it around. He has to head home. Does something happen to him on the way? Is someone waiting for him at home? Is there anything special about the fish?
Ask yourself these questions. Ask A LOT of questions about the situation. On occasion, the imagination will create ideas when asked or something familiar will show up. Like the news article I heard about involving a fisherman who lost his wedding ring but several years later he gets it back after catching the fish that swallowed it. I think I will take the ring-swallow route.
So the man goes home. Yet my imagination is saying that nobody else is there although he is married because of the ring. No. Wait. He was married. I do not see any wife wanting to clean a whole fish when her husband could have bought the fillets instead. He also enjoys fishing, yet why wouldn’t he have caught his own? Maybe he once enjoyed it.
This means he is an older gentleman, widowed, who doesn’t mind cleaning his own fish but does not want to deal with the troubles of going fishing.
See how the imagination works. Here are the makings of a story. All I did was create a dinner list, write out dialogue at a marketplace, and create more in-depth information by asking questions. We also have the start of a nice situation featuring a lost wedding ring soon to be discovered. Let’s keep going.
He ends up finding the ring without choking on a fishbone. Yet where do I go from there? Perhaps I need to examine his life. How did his wife die? Or is she really dead?
Never be afraid to take several steps back and let the imagination have its way on how the plot changes. Having the man as a widow is interesting, yet having the man believe he is a widow could lead to other possibilities. Let’s concentrate on the ring now. What is so special about it? How does he know the ring is really his? There is the possibility that the jeweler has several with the same design. Maybe his wife had something etched on the inside. Lots of people inscribe their love on marriage tokens.
So the man looks inside the ring and reads the words. Ben, my love.
Yes, it is his ring. But wait. Someone has scraped a message into the surface after those words, maybe using a rusty nail.
Help! 26th st. Ann.
Well, that is unexpected.
Now look at all the possibilities I have created in this outline ( my tiny, plot-spoiler woman is wearing a party hat and lying face down on the rug, belching mightily from the booze and twirling a noisemaker in happiness.) Let your ideas go wild. Make lists. Listen and watch people. Ask questions. Do research. Write what you know and feel comfortable about it. Create a little tinder to ignite your imagination. You will be amazed at what you can create from there.
WRITE ON, GOOD PEOPLE! WRITE ON!