Where Do Stories Come From?

In the top five questions authors are asked is: “Where do you get your stories?” 

When asked this I quickly said, “the Amazon story store.”  I mean, Amazon sells live lady bugs and rents goats, why not sell stories?  But alas, I had to stop saying that because too many wannabe write-a-book-in-a-weekend writers asked me for the link. 

Here’s the real skinny people.

Writers are blessed/cursed with imaginations. Wild, vivid imaginations.  As Addison pointed out yesterday, “Our imagination is capable of great things.” I want to take that farther. I firmly believe, to writers, imagination is everything. Imagining is our super power.  It’s a way to preview life’s coming attractions. It’s the ability to change the past in our mind’s eye.

 Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” I’m not going to argue with Al.

Back to the, where do you get stories question. The correct answer is writers get stories everyplace. Through our senses, into our minds, we ingest the world around us then reshape it all into new images in our imagination.   

Following are some things that recently tripped my imagination trigger.

The Bureau of Land Management is seeking volunteers to stay in a haunted ghost town. Really? Spend the summer in the middle of nowhere Montana in an abandoned haunted town?  Not happening for me but, my mind took me to an abundance of romance possibilities and spooky stuff.

Then there’s the abandoned and boarded up Baker hotel in Mineral Springs TX.  A big ole empty hotel just sitting there. What happens to a group of mystery writers when they spend a weekend there?  Reading about the Baker my mind went to what I perceived could be the last sentence in a book. How would you rate your stay at the Baker Hotel?   

A supposedly VERY haunted abandoned mental institution is being turned into a hotel. No thank you on staying there. It’s bad enough my characters wake me in the night, do not need ghosts doing that. Anyhow, I imagined a story about the workmen. What they would experience. Ewww. Goose bumps.

And mercy. Someone mentioned that old song, DEAD SKUNK IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. I immediately thought of a squished ex sprawled across the double yellow line. A hot detective convinced the ex-wife killed the skunk.

Or, taking Ray Stevens’ song, THE MISSISSIPPI SQUIRREL REVIVAL, The day the squirrel went berserk in First Self Righteous Church, and writing a novella. Frankly any of his songs would make a book.  IT’S ME AGAIN MARGARET or… THE STREAK-He didn’t have nuttin on but a smile! Snort!

Who but an author can look at varicose veins and see a map of the fictional city they’re writing about?  Or, admire an ancient oak and, depending on your mood, imagine couples from every time period falling in love under the spreading branches. Then wonder how many bodies the roots are embracing.

Do you people watch? I watch for expressions and body language. I often wonder about the older couple (70’s maybe) I saw tangoing on the beach to a blaring BUST YOUR WINDOWS by Jazmine. Still makes me smile. Were they childhood sweethearts?  Together all their lives or reunited? Maybe even new lovers.  Con artists who bilked millions from people and maybe left a few bodies in the swamp?

The young woman who yelled at a man he was a sexist for holding the door open for her. There I stood, gapping at her wondering what her love story would be like. First, it would take a dang big character arc to take that bitter betty to lovable character. And, wondering if she’d like a dark haired hero. Maybe one who wore BC glasses.

And time travel. Goodness. Imagine what you would go back and change. Or would you? How will you determine if the slightest change you make will affect the world?  What if someone went back and switched the colors green and blue? Blue leaves and green sky forever.

Bottom line is, those who imagine, as in authors, are a special breed. Every day we fade into the alternate world of books. Those written by others and the ones we’re writing. We extend our arms, put our fingers to the keyboard and imagination flows, letter by letter, across the screen. We can imagine anything and happily share what we conjure up with the world. 

BTW I now answer the where do ideas come from question with a huge smile and say, “I imagine every single one of them.”

Where have you and your imagination gone today?    


34 responses to “Where Do Stories Come From?”

  1. I love this and the bits about the dead skunk I remember that song. And you’re right any of Ray Stevens songs would make a great romantic comedy.

  2. jbrayweber says:

    Great post, Rita!
    Boogedy, boogedy! Ethel!

  3. June Love says:

    Awesome post, Rita! I laughed out loud at your mention of Ray Stevens. So many stories that could come from his songs–and I think one or two maybe have. 🙂 The ex in the middle of the road is a great idea, too!

    I remember sitting in a hospital cafeteria one day watching out the window as a backhoe repeatedly brought up buckets of dirt from where they prepping to add a new hospital wing. I imagined standing there and seeing a dead body in one of the bucket load of dirt. Oh, the possibilities.

    Yes, we see things, everyday things, and think beyond that. I love being a writer! 🙂

  4. Elizabeth Langston says:

    I think my brain processes nearly everything people say, because there’s always a story in there somewhere.

    If I hear someone say, “That decision changed my life,” I think–what if you’d taken another choice?

    A few what-ifs and a supernatural being that swoops in can change even the most boring stories into something thrilling.

    We should do that sometime. Take a boring plotline–give ourselves 2 what-ifs–and see where it takes us!

    • Rita Henuber says:

      I do that also. Like take a different route home and as I’m driving think about what I’m missing by not going another way. A plane crash? The swamp monster? Anyone else do this?

    • Kate Parker says:

      I wish I’d known many years before I finally learned it that my brain is unique to writers. I thought for so long that everyone saw all these things that aren’t there. What a shock to find out that most people see what’s there and nothing else. How incredibly boring.

  5. Laurie Kellogg says:

    I love your mind, Rita! The FAQ page on my website says I buy my ideas at writers’ conferences–2 for a buck. Don’t all authors? I didn’t know Amazon is another vendor. 🙂 I’ll have to try them the next time I’m looking for an idea.

    • Rita Henuber says:

      Perhaps I should set up a Facebook page to sell ideas. I took some time off from writing to do other creative things. Draw, knitting, gardening and during that time I came up with soooo many new books ideas.

  6. Tamara Hogan says:

    Great post, Rita! In my current WIP, I’m having a great time imagining how my 300 year old vampire hero might have injected himself into human history. 😉

    I think “What if?” are two of the most important words in a writer’s vocabulary.

  7. What a fun post. I hit a writing rut earlier this year, and am just crawling out of it. I’m rediscovering my imagination—and realizing it didn’t totally go away. LOL It just went into hiding during that one book, apparently.

    And now I want to write the story of the bitter Betty and give her an HEA. Guess I’m a romantic at heart. Or…maybe the guy holding the door for her was her ex and he’ll end up sprawled against the yellow lines on the pavement outside that cafe. 😉

  8. Kim Law says:

    I did a tour of a historic downtown recently, and the tour guide took us over to the art gallery. Sitting there was this woman who’d been around town for YEARS, and she got to tell stories about things that had happened on the square, and man…my imagination was going wild. This post made me think of her again. I want to go back and buy her lunch and just let her talk for a couple of hours. I can’t imagine all the possibilities that would come out of that one conversation!

    • Rita Henuber says:

      Kim do it! I would love to go with you. In London we met a man, Wally, outside Buckingham Palace. He told us stories and guided us to where we saw the Queen Mum and Prince Charles. He sailed in a tiny boat with his brother to save English soldiers at Dunkirk.

  9. Music, so much music. I get whole novel arcs from a single song. I’m obviously not alone in this! But it does make for a boring playlist…same song over and over again.

    But also, books, especially non-fiction and histories. Oh, and Googling “unsolved mysteries” or “mysterious places” to jog my mind…

  10. Rita, what a wonderful post. I get asked about story ideas a lot. When I come across people who are rude, I instantly tell them my name, that I’m an author, and should they see someone who looks and acts like they do in one of my upcoming books, they will know where I got the idea.

    On ideas, I think that writer brains work differently them the rest of the world. For example, across the street from my house is a vacant cattle ranch. Every once and a while, some cows will wonder up to the fence letting me know they they’re still alive. The only building on this property is a tiny metal shed way back from the road. It’s not important how I know this, only that it’s the only building. Like clockwork, a Constable drives in at 7:30 every weekday morning, stays for exactly 30 minutes and leaves. Every afternoon at precisely 4:30 a nurse drives into the property and stays for exactly 30 minutes. Did I mention that I have way too much free time and spend lots of it tracking the comings and goings on the ranch? In my mind, there’s a secret underground government facility where they keep Guantanamo detainees and Elvis Presley.

    See writer brains work differently.

    I love people watching and eavesdropping on people’s conversations in restaurants. I’ve been known to shush my family when they’re talking too loud and I can’t hear what the couple behind me is fighting about.

    • Rita Henuber says:

      *writer brains work differently them the rest of the world.*
      This exactly. I feel sorry for those who can’t see all the stories we do. Tell me, what’s the power on that telescope you’re using to keep track of the goings on?

  11. elise hayes says:

    It’s funny, because I often think that my weakness as a writer is that I don’t have enough imagination. I don’t, for instance, have characters talking in my head as so many of my writer friends do.

    But your post actually reassured me, because the places where you find stories are exactly where I find mine: the “what ifs,” the odd pieces of conversations I overhear, snippets from news stories, lines from songs. My imagination is rooted in the real world: there’s got to be a trigger, or a seed, for a scenario/story idea to take root.

    Thanks for the post, Rita! (and the reassurance that my imagination is doing just fine, thank you 🙂

  12. Gwyn says:

    Great post, Rita, and so true. Heck, if I went half the places my imagination took me, I’d either be serving a life sentence or dead from exhaustion. Oh, and I’d be the queen. 😉 I feel rather sorry for those who can’t escape into the possibilities, who can’t see past the mundane or the obvious. There’s just so much life beyond our limited sphere, and the only way to live it is to open our minds.

    Unfortunately, like most all things about our humanity, imagination must be nurtured and exercised to reach its potential, and the reality of our world steals opportunity for that at every turn. The proliferation of gadgets that do everything but tap dance (and that’s probably around the corner) to entertain children saddens me. Give them a big box and some crayons and they’ll explore the universe all by themselves.

    • Rita Henuber says:

      I can take a mini vacation in my head. Name my book bad guys after people I really don’t care for. I love the world I live in. I suspect the children who are dreamers and imaginers are out there doing their thing. Looking at those lost in devices with great pity.

  13. Elisa Beatty says:

    Love this, Rita! My imagination does the same thing, but usually not with a literal relation to what I’ve seen. It’s more that I hear music, or see a patch of color, or the way a person swings their arm, and something starts blooming in my mind…not necessarily with any clear relation to what I was just looking at or hearing.

  14. Awesome post, Rita! You never told me about Amazon. LOL Too funny.

    I’ve had people ask me where I get my ideas, and I’ve responded from you. You’re giving me an idea now. Then I walk away. Hehehe

    • Rita Henuber says:

      Autumn i figure there are two kinds of people in the world. Those that write and those who don’t. Ask me where ideas come from and I know you’re one of the latter.

  15. Addison Fox says:

    Oh Rita – I LOVE this!!!! And I love the idea of imagination as superpower. It’s such an awesome thought!


    “How would you rate your stay?” had me laughing out loud! 🙂


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