Friday, July 26, 2013

Where DO those story ideas come from, anyway?

Dear friends,

I think every author has been asked this question at least once -- where DO those ideas come from? Of course, being the wild card that I am, I'll make some smart-ass reply.  "Oh, I dig them up in the yard," or "I get them from the cat, he's really good at spinning tales."  Something witty like that.

Truth be told, though, most of my fictional stories are based on true-to-life occurrences.  Some might call me nosy; I prefer to think of it as being aware, paying attention, and being a good listener.  Nothing wrong with that, is there?  There are thousands of story ideas out there.  The key is to take something and make something else out of it.  Give it a different spin.  Start with a snippet of conversation, then imagine what might come after it. (Otherwise, you're writing non-fiction.)

For example, my newest e-story, Dewey Laudermilk and the Peckerwood Tree, (second in my new "Nameless, Texas" short story series) was inspired by true events.  I was sitting in my backyard under the shade tree, after a horribly hot day of gardening.  I heard someone rev up a chainsaw, which isn’t that unusual, given that we live in a ‘hood that’s covered with ancient pecan trees.  I could see the house catty-corner from us, a rental full of rednecks.  (I can call them that since I’m kin to rednecks, and have actually been called one myself.  For some of us, it’s a thing of pride.  Just sayin’.)  

Photos can be inspirations for stories, too.
Anyway, I noticed that there were quite a few of them, all standing around an ancient pecan tree—a perfect healthy one, by the way. And they were hacking at it to beat the band.  One was at the top, waving the chainsaw around like it was a popsicle stick.  I kept waiting for him to cut his head or some other appendage off, but he didn’t.  Over the course of an hour or so, he and his buddies cut the entire tree down, but not without a few mishaps along the way.  And this was not a tiny tree; this tree was at least three-stories tall.

Since I’m madly in love with these trees, it made me heart-sick to see the tree being cut down. I won’t even cut the dead ones unless I'm forced to do so, because there are so many bird families that live in them. Woodpeckers, for instance.  Thus the “peckerwood” in the story.

In my mind, I saw the elderly lady next door come out onto her porch, shake her head, look sad, and go back inside--and in my imagination, she turned into Dewey's grandma.

Badda bing, badda boom!  Story time!  I loped inside and grabbed a pen and piece of paper.  (I should know by now to keep a pad/pencil in my pocket, because lots of my story ideas come when I’m outside, slaving away in the sun.) I scribbled a few notes – “pecan tree, lady next door, idiots, telephone pole.”

I came inside, thought about it for a while, put the notes on The Pile, and took a shower.

That night, I sat down and launched into it.  I visualized the guys cutting down the tree, and it wasn’t long before the characters took off on their own.  A few times, I gave them a nudge, thinking, what’s the WORST THING that could happen here?  What would a group like this be saying to each other, or doing?

Since the theme of REVENGE figures a lot in my stories (I don’t do it on purpose; it just happens--really), I used that for my motive. I won’t say anything more, because I hate spoilers, and it would ruin the story for you. :-)

Here’s the lesson from all this – pay attention to what other people are doing.  Because people ARE stories.  Eavesdrop if you get the chance, and don’t ever dismiss everyday happenings as inspiration for stories.  Some of the best stories might come from a comment you overhear at the Dairy Queen. "I knew he was trouble when I first laid eyes on him." 
 Hmmm--now that has story potential. By the way, until they moved out (finally!), this crazy group was the inspiration for at least two more stories. Stuff I couldn't make up if I tried!

If nothing else, you’ll be amused, and you might even get a story out of it.

Oh, and the photo on the cover of the story?  That's a log from the pecan tree next door to me.  It was also cut down because the homeowner "got tired of picking up twigs in the yard."  Perhaps there's another story in THAT one.

Happy trails from Texas!

bobbi c.


Jan Christensen said...

Too funny, Bobbi. Those type of things never seem to happen to me, so I have to make everything up from start to finish. Although, our next door neighbor shot out his oven door. I suppose I could get a story out of that . . .

Bobbi Chukran, Author of Mysterious Stories & Award-Winning Playwright said...

Hey Jan,

I wonder if they do happen, and you don't notice them? I will admit that we have quite a bunch of unusual characters living around here (and I say that in a GOOD way--LOL), but I've had story ideas from walking around in places like Barnes and Noble in Austin, Whole Foods, etc. Maybe you aren't as nosy as I am. LOL.

Betty h. said...

Great read! Hope the pecan tree comes back to haunt them all!!!!!!

Bobbi Chukran, Author of Mysterious Stories & Award-Winning Playwright said...

Hi Betty! I hope it does, too. :-)

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Bobbi,

I very much agree with you. Good writers are observers and readers. They pay attention to the people around them and they read voraciously. Most of my writing is faction as well.

Bobbi Chukran, Author of Mysterious Stories & Award-Winning Playwright said...

Hi Jacqueline, Yes, that's it exactly--paying attention. And reading a lot. I didn't mention it, but I've also found some good ideas for mystery stories by reading small town newspapers online. Some of those are hilarious, too.

Earl Staggs said...

You're always fun to read, Bobbi. As for story ideas, I think it's the same for most of us. We see something, think "What if. . ." and a story is born.

Bobbi Chukran, Author of Mysterious Stories & Award-Winning Playwright said...

Am I, Earl? Gosh, that's good to know! Thanks! :-)

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Very entertaining!

Bobbi Chukran, Author of Mysterious Stories & Award-Winning Playwright said...

Thanks for reading, Terrie!