Eight ways to 'find' a story
When your fiction is not happening, some prewriting techniques may prime the idea pump
Published: January 1, 2008
|God knows, as writers our well sometimes runs dry. There are times when we just can't think of anything to write. At times like these, it's good to have some prewriting strategies to fall back on. Prewriting is anything you do to come up with ideas before you write your story.|
There are many ways into a story. You might try "finding" a story through the following:
In your prewriting session, fill out the following character questionnaire on your main character or on any character in your story. Take your time considering the character, and then see what happens. If done thoughtfully, this strategy should give you ideas for stories, and a plot may follow.
Mother' name and occupation:
Father's name and occupation:
Siblings' names and ages:
Children's names and ages:
What does the character desire most?
What does the character fear?
What is the character's ultimate sexual fantasy?
What does the character treasure?
Whom and/or what does the character hate?
What are the character's goals?
What has the character been avoiding?
Who is the character's best friend?
What are his hobbies?
What is his religion?
When is his birthday?
What was his most recent birthday wish?
What are his pet peeves?
What is his favorite food?
What is his favorite vacation spot?
Does he have any disabilities? What are they?
What are his obsessions?
Does he have a pet? What is its name?
What is his favorite book? Song? Season?
What is his race? Nationality?
What are his special talents?
Has he ever been hospitalized? For what?
Does he believe in reincarnation?
Does he like parties?
Further describe him physically:
Describe more fully his mental abilities:
Describe more fully his spirituality:
Describe more fully his psychological state:
Most writers never think of setting issues when they think of prewriting, but setting is an excellent catalyst for ideas.
Following is a list of make-believe settings. In your prewriting session, pick a setting and then try to imagine something interesting that could happen there. You may want to think of it this way: What is a possible conflict that could arise in this setting? And now, a possible resolution?
1. Suburban ballet school
2. Crack house
3. The meat department in a grocery store
5. Florida beach
6. The waiting room of a doctor's office
7. Trailer park
10. Fourth-grade classroom
11. The lunchroom of a Manhattan advertising agency
12. Cancer research lab
13. Women's rest room
14. Baby shower
15. Fishing boat
16. Football locker room
17. Crowded bar
18. Fancy restaurant
19. Delivery room
20. Disney World ride
21. Calcutta street
22. Liberian rubber plantation
23. Deserted island
24. Niagara Falls observation deck
25. The pyramids
26. The bed shared with spouse
Another thing that might jar an idea out of your brain is a plot formula. Here is a basic plot formula that could give you the outline of an entire story.
1. Think of a character.
2. The character wants something. What does he want?
3. What is the first way he tries to get it?
4. He doesn't succeed. Why not?
5. What is the second way he tries to get it?
6. He doesn't succeed. Why not?
7. Finally, what is the third way he tries to get it?
8. He either succeeds or doesn't.
9. How is he changed emotionally by this process?
My friend Daniel used to write stories moving from theme to story. In other words, he'd say, "I want to write a story about friendship." Then, he'd write the story.
Following are some concepts you might use to begin to write your story. If you like to see the big picture before you write, this prewriting strategy could be for you.
I used to collect old postcards that I'd purchase at auctions and rummage sales. I loved to look at the old tourist spots, and often got story ideas by looking at these colorful artifacts of days gone by. People also prewrite by drawing their own pictures. Try it.
If you're a visual thinker and learner, this strategy might be for you.
Another friend of mine listened to music before he wrote. Certain music would put him in certain moods, and he'd go from there. You might like Mozart, while someone else might like the Clash. If you're an auditory thinker and learner, this might help you.
Some people read great literature before they write to inspire themselves. They don't plagiarize what's been written, but simply use what's already been written to "learn from the masters" and find ideas for inspiration.
What to read to get story ideas
The Poetics by Aristotle
Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud
Anything by Joseph Campbell
The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker
Through a journal
Many people keep journals so that if their well does run dry, they can go to a place where ideas are stored. Following is some potential subject matter for a writer's journal.
News stories and headlines
Interesting people you've met
Your favorite published stories
Ideas off the Internet
And there you have it: eight ways into a story. There are many more. So the next time you pick up your pen to start a story, try one of these strategies to help pave the way for your next great tale. Good luck.
--Posted Jan. 1, 2008
Laura Yeager has published fiction in a number of publications and teaches at Gotham Writers Workshop.