Friday Fun – Where do your stories start?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: Some writers are inspired by character. Some fall in love with a particular setting. Others write stories based on a recurring theme or message. Still others have a soft spot for genre tropes. Where do your stories start? Does a character pop into your head and demand a story, or do you have a vision of an abandoned castle on the Scottish moors and need to set your story there? Are you struck by a passionate desire to tell a story about justice, loyalty, or courage; or do you just want to write something that lets you write an awesome confrontation or reveal scene? What gets your creative juices flowing first?

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: This is a tough one, because, most of the time the combination of elements tumbles into my mind at almost the same time. For instance, I was hiking in Acadia a couple of years ago and came up with the idea of writing a story set in this beautiful area of Maine, featuring an eccentric and slightly prickly bar owner whose establishment is threatened by a giant corporation, and dealing with the theme of right vs. might. I honestly can’t say which element came first.

Having (finally!) read Stephen King’s book On Writing, I think that my inspiration might come more often in the “situational” form he describes – the “what if?” scenario. In those cases, all the initial pieces of a story appear more or less simultaneously. Usually this happens while I’m half in a daydream or reading some random article or news story. My brain just connects the dots in an unexpected way, and I’m off and running.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson: Most of my stories start with at a specific moment in time – a snapshot. In fact, my favorite writing prompts are photographs, particularly b&w images. There is one very specific moment captured in a photograph and stories evolve from that. These generally lead to 3rd person or omniscient point of view stories.

Most times my stories come from snapshots in my mind, through dreams. Sometimes it’s me looking at the moment as an unbiased bystander, other times, it’s from the perspective of the main character – I’m looking out through their eyes at a moment in time. This leads, generally, to 1st person stories.


26 thoughts on “Friday Fun – Where do your stories start?

  1. 90% of the time, it’s music. I’ll listen to a song and a scene will come into my head. If I’m lucky, I’ll have a whole soundtrack and that becomes the map. Otherwise, I build a story around that first scene.

    The other 10%, it’s something that’s going on in my life. I don’t keep a diary. When I feel immensely stressed or worried (why is always the negative?) I use writing as escapism and occasionally, something nice comes from it.

    • I love that! You’ve reminded me of a Sting song that long ago gave me the spark of a story/character idea. There was just something about it that painted an instant picture in my mind – one I wanted to write about.

      I’m curious – are you usually inspired my instrumental music, or songs with lyrics?

  2. My stories are inspired by courage and actions of my family and friends. I enjoy watching people smile so I sometimes will write and post people smiles. I focus on what I call “Butterfly Blessings”

  3. Since I’m writing in my own fantasy world (on so many levels, ha ha), I often start with something I find interesting about the world itself — an event, a cultural tradition, a religious belief, a type of magic — and go from there. What would it be like for an everyday person in that world to experience it? What kind of conflict could arise? Or alternately, what was the inside story really like for the legendary heroes or villains at the center of it? From there I find a character who’s grappling with the issue, and let him or her tell me the rest.

    I suppose I might do the same if I was writing in the real world. There are plenty of fascinating traditions and events to start from.

    • The folks over at the Writing Excuses podcast have a name for that “something” that you find interesting about your created world … what is it? Argh – can’t think of it at the moment. It’s like the “cool factor,” or something. Anyway – it’s fascinating how you can build an entire world and cast of characters around a single “thing” or idea. All it takes is a little imagination, right?

      Thanks for sharing. If I think of that Writing Excuses term, I’ll post it! 🙂

      • If you remember that term, please do let me know! To be clear, there isn’t anything nearly cool-factor enough in Eneana to build the entire world around — the world is a patchwork of cultures and religions and history and ideas. But I like to think there are plenty of things cool enough to build a whole story around. 😉

  4. I’m not sure exactly how relevant my writing is to this discussion, but I’ll throw my two cents in.

    I write primarily creative non-fiction. My current blog recounts the endless memories I have of working in the human services field as a direct care worker.

    Ideally, my writing should give the reader vivid snapshots of unbelievable (yet true) events that happen in the field on a daily basis. I hope to represent the essential elements of each memory so that even a reader without any experience in the field might gain at least a little insight into the struggles of both staff and client. I want the reader to imagine that they are present with me in each moment.

    I believe both direct care workers and special needs individuals are grossly misunderstood and undervalued people. Hopefully my blog (and book) will at least help to enlighten a good chunk of people.

    • Sounds like you’ve got a lot of relevant material to work with. That’s great! Coming up with ideas is something many people struggle with, so you’re lucky to have such an archive to plunder. 😉

  5. Much of my writing stems from my own life experiences with a good bit of “what if” thrown in. When I say “life experiences,” I refer to events that one way or the other directly impacted my existence, but I also mean events that are distant in time and space. For instance, my maternal great-grandfather was a full-bloodied Cherokee. Major story producer!

    • Same here – not the Cherokee blood, but very mixed ancestry and life experiences in many countries. With me it’s usually the memory of a specific place, I try to bring back the sensory details of the place and then take it from there: add characters and get events going…

      • Place can be a very evocative starting point for any story. I have often been struck by a certain view and imagined what kind of story might take place there. When I was a kid, I imagined a whole race of “silver deer” that lived in the woods around my house. The idea sprang from my own ramblings through the trees along the paths made by “regular” deer. 🙂

    • That’s very cool. I love how you’ve extended “your” experience to encompass elements of your extended family’s lives. Must be a lot of great cross-pollination opportunities that way!

  6. Most of my stories start with “what if?” Standing on a beach I might think, “What if I were a pirate?” Looking at the stars I might think, “What if my space ship crashed here?” Reading the newspaper I might think, “What happens if HE gets elected president?”

  7. In my short stories, I usually start with “what if” situations, and build characters around that scenario. In my longer fantasy pieces, I start with world-building, and then create characters and situations to fill it. Or sometimes, a characters emerges in my mind, and I build a world or situation around him or her. Each story is unique, and begins uniquely.

    • So interesting that you have a range of starting points depending on the format and particular piece. I’m going to have to pay more attention to what sparks my own stories … kind of fun to document their genesis. 😉

  8. I often listen to music and sceario’s come time mind which I build around. But then I have the places I have been to to place the stories in, or sometimes I see or visit a place which bring seetings to mind. I don’t focus on the a lesson or what if, normally a premise of some kind.

    • It’s so interesting to me how a small thing like a song or a view or even just a doorway can provide the spark that enables a writer to create an entire story or even world. That’s some kind of magic. 🙂

      • It is magic. Kind of…. lol
        Its bring open to ideas and imagination and then write it. But that spark can turn into something amazing. Thanks for replying Jamie 🙂

  9. My stories are mostly dictated by characters. Some of them seem to just drop into my head, fully formed, clamouring for their story to be told. Sometimes I obey, but sometimes I shut them off. I build entire worlds for them and they live quietly in a corner of my head, narrating their tale. I write it down, tweak it, edit it and sometimes abandon it. Some live on, some fade away. I don’t think I can write if their voices stop.

  10. I love it when people ask me that question; where do you get your stories. I remain casual, nonchalant, give a little shrug, say, I’m not really sure. But what I’d really like to say is, IDON’T KNOW! IF I DID DON’T YOU THINK I’D BE STOOD IN LINE AT THAT STORE EVERYDAY?

  11. Like this question. It always makes me rethink. One story began with a question….’What would happen if…? What happens later. Beyond the Ashes. was birthed. An image of the haunting face of child in a river…Marranga-Limga was birthed. It can happen in many and various ways. The ongoing creativity only flows I believe if you write it down. You can’t FORCE creativity. You can force writing but ideas are individualistic – Every one is so different. For Paul above ……start by writing down why the question makes you feel like that. (You are unique….your voice expresses something absolutely unique). The image of a line of folk waiting at a store for inspiration inspires me.

  12. I don’t really write stories on hear, mainly my journey through my eyes but along the way I write about my life and thoughts. When I write away from my weight loss, the ideas usually spring from work. I’m there 8 hours a day, I spend hours talking to these people on topics HR would fire us from, and they are the people who encourage, inspire, challenge, and keep me from losing my mind. I reach into my own thoughts and challenge myself to think away from what I believe and hope to challenge others as well. Sometimes I write to complain, because we all know work drama. I write based off of life. And life is what motivates me to keep going since every day is a new one and who knows what will happen with it!

  13. Usually I am inspired by life, events or incidents that happened to me (or around me) and a mix of weird characters I encounter… but often too, my inspiration ~ or should I say the seeds of new stories ~ come from my dreams. I had one, years ago, and now I have a series of 5 books written and some plans for a 6th one.

    Must say that I have a pretty wild imagination too and love creating/transforming real people… and events… into something else… it can be funny to see to what extent imagination brings us.

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