Monday, April 11, 2011

Story Fodder from Life

And now back to our regular programming . . .

I've been asked by a few people where I get my story ideas. In my last post, I talked about the heroes who show up in dreams; and they do. They're quite insistent that way. However, there are plenty of other ways I get story ideas.

Jeff Foxworthy, the You Might Be a Redneck comedian, was asked the same question: where did he come up with his stuff? His answer: He just looked around and watched life. Life is pretty darn funny if you pay attention. Stories are there to be told just from things you see and hear around you.

For example: My friend E. K. Yenawine has met some pretty entertaining characters in her daily life. One time, she had this guy come up to her in a bar and hit on her. After about an hour of talking, he says to her, "So . . . have you figured out my special talent yet?" Ooookeeeey. What kind of story could you write about this guy? You could go for the superhero side. His special talent? Perhaps he can burn through solid steel with laser vision, or maybe he can tell how many nails were used to build the bar counter. Special talent.

Another guy came up to E.K. while she was shopping for new hiking boots in an REI. He asked her to lunch, but she kindly declined. He then followed her around the store and when she removed her shoes to try on a pair of new boots, he scooped up one shoe, held it to his face, and took a deep breath in. E.K. just stared at him flabbergasted. Why was he sniffing her shoes? When he let out his breath, he said in a dreamy voice, "The foot is the sexiest part of the body because it's the closest to Mother Earth." Hooo-boy, can you say foot fetishist? Or maybe he's a stalker of women who like to hike because knows that someday they'll be out in the woods, all alone, and he'll be waiting . . . [insert evil laugh here]

My favorite quote I heard in passing while leaving campus at college one day. It went: "I was just getting out my tinfoil so I wouldn't have to walk home alone." Uh, really? Maybe this person had little fairies, wrapped in tinfoil to keep the sun's harmful rays from cooking them to death. Maybe the fairies needed greater warmth than western Washington in the spring could provide. Maybe this person was using the tinfoil as a mirror to keep herself company. Maybe she used it to contact her alien friends in the Mothership hovering just beyond the cloud cover. I dunno, it was just an odd thing to say. But think of the stories you could come up with for it!

The point is, stories are out there everywhere. TV shows, movies, even other books can spark ideas. I once got an entire story out of a music album by Nicholas Gunn. It was called Windwalker's Song (as yet unpublished and unedited) and it was about the Native Americans (Havasupai) living in the Grand Canyon. I got another story idea from C. J. Cherryh's Chanur Saga called Starhawk's Kin (unedited too). Story ideas have been haunting me for years and I got them from everyday occurrences. Some are good, some are okay, but eventually, the great ones came together in a coherent stream of events.

Look around you. If you want to write about something but don't know what, look for those funny quotes; people-watch; heck, go grocery shopping. Story ideas are everywhere!

I'll leave you with these thoughts that I got from my friend Tom Keller: It's early in the year and Congress is arguing over the budget; not all of it, just the piddly little 2% that affects social programs. In the meantime, there's an alien threat looming on the horizon of the Universe. A planetary scientist, Maxwell Sharpe, who has studied extraterrestrial life as a side project to his work with NASA, has a degree in ancient languages and works at the Large Array in New Mexico. What kind of story would you write with those few things?

Science fiction thriller? Paranormal suspense? Or maybe just a tragic comedy? Yeah, sometimes I wonder how our government makes it through each day. Like I said, story ideas are everywhere!

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Comments are on moderation, so they'll become visible once I've read them. Words, words, words. I love them. Have you a few to lend?

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