The question I get most often from young writers is “How do you get ideas for stories?”
One writer I know claims that he gets his ideas from a secret Idea Bank in Waxahatchie, Texas, but the truth is, most writers think up our own. Most of my books have come about because I am curious about something. I keep a notebook by my chair and when I read something I want to know more about, I write it down and head for the library. THE PUPPETEER’S APPRENTICE came about because of a book I read on the history of the puppet theater.
On the Big Island of Hawaii. Traveling is another good way to get ideas for stories.
A second way I get ideas for stories is by observing what’s going on around me: That old lady on the park bench over there: who is she and why is she sitting there? Why is that man standing outside the bank looking so worried? (I hope he’s not about to rob the place! But what if he did? That might be pretty exciting to write about.) One day I saw two young girls arguing in a mall, and then all of a sudden, they started hugging each other and crying. I figured they were best friends, and I started making up a story about them. Their story became my third novel, MY LONE STAR SUMMER, which won a prize for young adult fiction.
Fun things you can do to get ideas for your writing:
Take a notebook to a park, the zoo, an airport, a mall, the grocery store. Watch what goes on around you and write it down. Notice what people are wearing, what they are talking about, what kinds of things are in their shopping carts. Give them names and imagine what happens when they get home.
Go to the library. Check out three books on subjects that are new to you. Hang gliding, maybe. Or a biography of someone whose name you have never before heard. Read about the ancient Romans, mako sharks, life in medieval England, or black holes in space. See what you learn and what questions come up as you read. Finding the answers just might turn into a story.
Tape record an interview with an older person. Ask them what they remember about music, dress, games, traditions, or events from their early days. Or interview someone who has an unusual occupation. What are the best and worst parts of the job? What’s the most exciting, the funniest, the most embarrassing or the most dangerous thing that’s ever happened to them at work?
Choose a place you’d like to visit. It can be as far away as Mars, or as close as your next door neighbor’s house. Gather travel brochures, travel guides, photographs, drawings, and newspaper articles. Make a list of questions you’d like to answer while you’re on the trip. Any of those questions can lead you to an idea for a great story.