Posts Tagged With: research

Getting Ideas for Stories: Listening to Others

When I attended RWA 2013 in Atlanta, I remember asking a published author, “Where do you get your ideas for your stories?” The answer I got was definitely not what I was expecting, but it made perfect sense. She answered with a big smile, “Just by listening to others.” What she meant was that she simply listened to others while restaurants, coffee shops and other public places. She also added, “You’d be amazed at the ideas you can get simply by overhearing a conversation.” It was only after I returned home that I realized this author was right. The journey home alone sparked an idea for a character in a future short story.

Oddly enough, coming up with ideas for a great story isn’t that easy. With countless stories out there, it’s difficult to come up with a story that hasn’t already been done. This is not to say that we as writers can’t take ideas that have already been done. We just have give them a twist and make them better. In our stories, we need characters, themes, settings and plots. The plot is often the most difficult. Think of it as a race – once it starts it has to finish. If it can’t finish, it loses.

Listening to others in conversation can lead to new ideas and it’s so easy to do because we can do it everyday. Of course if you do this, you must make sure you’re not intentionally eavesdropping (you don’t want to arouse suspicion). Try doing this passively (read a newspaper, do a Sudoku puzzle etc) and listen. If this doesn’t appeal to you, you can get ideas simply by chatting with your friends/co-workers. You never know, perhaps they might spew out a few witty ideas for that next novel.

So in short, why should you rely on listening to others directly/indirectly for story ideas?

  • it’s simple, it doesn’t cost anything (maybe a buck or two for food and drink)
  • people love to talk about things affecting their daily grind. You can use that for a plot in your book, which will appeal to the reader.
  • you’re bound to run into people from different cultures, so you’ll hear different dialects/accents. You can easily get an idea for a new character with his or her own distinct voice.
  • daily conversations spark ideas which readers will relate to and more importantly what they want to read in stories.
  • you are not actively trying to find an idea. You’re listening and talking with others and then the idea FINDS YOU. It’s like everything else in life – when you’re looking for it, you don’t find it. When you’re not looking, it finds you.


Unless you have a great memory, I suggest you bring a notepad or download EverNote on your Smartphone so you can jot the ideas down. So try this out. It’s worked for me and still does.


Categories: Writing & Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , ,

Know thy characters!

Your characters are the life of your story. They are like the sauce on your steak, the strawberries on your Belgian waffles (You get the idea). Without them, your story is dull and doesn’t exist, so it’s important to know them inside and out. This means knowing more than just their names, looks and basic info. Essentially, you must know your characters like you know your loved ones. Your characters must also be different from each other, so that there is a diversity of character traits in your story – one can be likeable, the other unlikable. In the book, I’m currently writing I know my main characters inside and out and can even picture them clearly in my mind! I once had a dream that I was in a scene in my book and saw my characters in action. Not to get off track, but what I’m saying is if your characters aren’t real to you, they sure won’t be real to the most important person of all – your reader.

While there is so much you have to know about characters, here is a few things which you ABSOLUTELY SHOULD KNOW about the players in any story:

1. Desires and Fears – What does your character dream of achieving? What does he or she fear the most? You can use these to set the path of your characters as they progress throughout the story. Fears can also be the root of conflict in which the character must face their fear in order to resolve that conflict. Just take any classical book out there; all the main characters had desires and fears. Not all of them were present in the books, but the authors certainly knew about them and so should you.

2. Language – do your characters talk in slang or use complete sentences? Do they use a certain dialect? Your characters should have a certain way of speaking and need to be distinct from one another. In other words, one character’s way of speaking should be different from the other. This can add conflict and tension between characters, which will engage the reader. If you’re stuck, think of your favorite character from a TV show or movie; how does that character speak?

3. Relationship with Family Members – How do your characters get on with their parents or siblings? If their parents are deceased in your story, then you need to know what the relationship was like while they were living. Why do you need to know this? Because relationships with family members shape personalities and habits, just like us in real life.  Like fears, perhaps your character has an issue that he/she must resolve with a parent. Maybe they have to save a sibling from a drug addiction (or something similar), even though they do not get along well. It can make for an interesting story, don’t you think?

4. Reactions – How do your characters react at parties? How do they respond to friends? How do they respond to strangers? You should know how your character reacts in a variety of situations, whether they face those situations in your story or not. These answer those ‘Would he/she say/do that?’ questions.

5. Attitude – Is your character an optimist or pessimist? What is their philosophy on life? Are they free-spirited or do they follow the rules? You need to know these in order to know what they like/dislike as well as their reactions.

For more on what you should know about characters, visit my ‘Tools For Writers’ section. Happy writing!

Categories: Life | Tags: , , , , ,

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