I often hear writers say they aren’t inspired or can’t think of a story. Inspiration is all around us, just look and be willing to ask a few questions. Read the news, listen to friends’ stories, or think about something that happened to you. For example:
A couple of days ago I was frustrated with my computer. More that normally frustrated. You see, I was in a hurry to get something done at work when the weekly software update message popped up on my screen and wouldn’t let me continue until I clicked, NOT NOW! Yesterday the same thing happened with my cell phone as I went to check my voicemail, “A new version of iOS is available, install now, install later.” Okay it only took 15 seconds to click 10 times to get rid of the popup so I could get to listen to my voice mail.
Maddening. Yes, I could go through and maybe silence all those, but some, like the ones my IT department at work forces on me just will never go away and will continue to popup at exactly the wrong moment. What really got me thinking was this what if question, “What if I were in a space ship when ground control sent a software update?”
Or, what if my spaceship’s computer decided it was time to download and install a major software update just as I am landing on Mars?
A few years ago my local marquetry club had a guest speaker give a class on designing. He stepped us through some design processes, gave us some tips and did a few design exercises. One exercises was to take two very different things and see if you could combine them into one thing.
For example, take a giraffe and a toaster. Now design something. What I came up with is the Giroaster. The finished concept is a toaster, with a light and a recipe holder. Okay, I added the recipe holder, but I needed something for the giraffe necked light to shine on that would make sense next to a toaster.
No, I haven’t solved the problem of toaster occasionally setting the recipes on fire.
Let me give you another example. Let’s say you want to write a crime story that features an arson. Are you an expert on arson? I am not, but I’ve got a story to tell about an arson. 30 years ago I took a real estate sales class thinking that selling houses could be a career choice. It wasn’t a good choice for me, but I heard an interesting story. A man in our class owned a house that he rented out to a woman. Over time the woman proved to be a bit mentally unstable and she stopped paying her rent, so he sent an eviction notice. Shortly after the notice was delivered he got a call from a neighbor saying that they’d just called the fire department as people were smelling a strong chemical smell from the house.
When the man arrived the fire captain told him that someone had put pots of turpentine on the stove and they were starting to boil when his crew showed up.
It was a cautionary tale about a mentally ill person bent on destruction. In this story everything turned out fine as the woman was quickly located, charged, convicted and sent away for a long time in a mental hospital.
Given those facts, could you build a story? Let’s ask some basic questions:
- What kind of man would own a rental home?
- Why was the man taking a class in real estate sales?
- What was the man’s relationship with the neighbors?
- Why did the neighbors have his phone number?
- How did the arsonist convince the man to rent her the house?
- What other arsons had she done and why?
- What kind of mental problems did she have?
- What would happen to a pot of boiling turpentine on a gas stove? On an electric stove?
I am thinking that you could come up with a lot more questions to ask and in the end come up with an interesting story. Perhaps something like this:
A man named Bob recently was laid off from his job as manager at a local restaurant. His mother had recently died and left him her home. A local real estate broker convinces Bob to rent it out and get a real estate license so Bob could work for the broker. Needing a tenant for the property, he advertises and finds Sue, a 29 year-old who has just moved to the area and has a job with a local chemical supply company. Little does Bob know that Sue killed a lover in another city by setting a house on fire. Sue turns out to be a one woman crime wave (possible she’s involved with the drug trade which has taken a toll on her mind). And of course the neighborhood knows the fine young boy, Bob, who came to see his mother and their friend every Sunday afternoon. So sad about Bob’s divorce just after losing his job and his mother dying.
So, just go get inspired. Remember stories from your past. Take two unrelated things and put them together, or think about what annoys you.
But mostly, just keep asking, “what if?” And keep writing.