By Morgen Bailey
This is a question that aspiring writers invariably ask and established authors dread being asked, or so they’ve told me. For most of us – I’ve been a writer (on and off) for eight years – ideas are everywhere, but what do you do if they just don’t leap out at you?
You look in newspapers: you can write about the main news story of the day, change the names, location, write it as fiction and see where it takes you. I often find though that it’s the smaller articles, away from the front few pages, that inspire me the most – the quirky stories that Mark Twain said were “stranger than fiction”. Some are too unbelievable (but I like writing them anyway) and you’ll know when you see them because they will grab you, planting seeds of a plot inside your brain.
You look in magazines: not a lot of difference you might imagine to newspapers, but articles in magazines tend to be more general, not latest events (because invariably they work weeks in advance) but magazines are full of people; real men and women who can become your characters. Locations can become your settings. Agony pages become your dilemmas.
You look out the window: the chances are that your house or apartment overlooks another, so even if you can’t see anyone, you can imagine that they’re there. What are they doing? If they’re just hanging out washing, have them talking to themselves, thinking about something that’s troubling them or a holiday they wish they could afford. This would be a template for a monologue. If you imagine that the phone rings or a visitor calls then there’d be a dialogue. Great practice for dialogue is to write a conversation with no ‘he said’, ‘she said’ etc; just write down what they say and see whether they can keep the conversation going between them. And make the speech authentic; incomplete sentences work well but cut down on the ums and ers. With no description, can the reader still follow what’s happening?
You think of a word: any word. Yes, just one word can set your imagination flowing. Take
‘chicken’ for example. Does it conjure up a dinner you had as a child, or perhaps a story where young boys are egging on a new ‘recruit’ into their gang to carry out a dare as part of his initiation ceremony.
However ideas strike you (or even if you have to lasso them) it’s all about communication. A reader reads your words and creates their world around them. They use their memories to picture your characters. Your Tracey could be a girl they knew from school instead of just a name you picked out of your head… or magazine. If the readers turn the page eager to know what happens next then you’ve done your ‘job’ and hopefully, you’ve had as much enjoyment getting the words there.
Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, podcaster, editor / critiquer, Chair of NWG (which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction Competition and creative writing tutor for her local council. She is also a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary. She is also active on Twitter, Facebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page).She also recently created five online writing groups and an interview-only blog. Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List and she has six others (mostly crime) in the works. http://twitter.com/morgenwriteruk http://www.facebook.com/morgenwriteruk