All Those Potential Stories

One of the most frequent questions writers hear is “where do you get your story ideas?”

Well, to be honest, where don’t we?

A couple nights ago, we were clicking through channels and landed on a PBS program about nineteenth century unsolved crimes. The episode was about a string of murders in Austin, Texas in 1885. I was immediately hooked, scribbling notes with vital information so I could later look up the crimes and explore the details again. My head kept telling me there was a story there. Well, it was actually a bit like alarm bells.

I’m not sure what it was…the historical period, the unsolved nature of the crimes or that they likely the work of a single person (an early serial killer), the fact that law enforcement never connected them, or perhaps the potential to create my own plot around them…something reached out and grabbed me.

It isn’t the first time that’s happened watching TV.

The same thing occurs when reading travel or history magazines—a lot. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve torn out pages and filed them away because I see the spark of a plot or core of a character within them.

Special news sections in papers are just as hard to resist. When I lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I used to look forward to Frontier Days and the multi-page spread with stories of life and events of the early community.

I’ve bought more books than I can count for the same reason. Book stores with large regional history sections are tempt me. Book sections within historic site visitor centers or museum gift shops seem to have tentacles that grab me and suck me in. I leave with a bag and an empty purse, story ideas shouting at me all the way home.

Historic hotels or bed and breakfast inns that have unique histories hook me, too. Next thing you know, I’m chatting with the manager about the past and where I might find more information.

Maybe it’s the penchant for research that lives within me. Maybe it’s the writer. Put them both together and I’m pretty much doomed.

So, all you writers out there…where do you get YOUR ideas?

Pamela Nowak
Pamela Nowak writes historical romance set in the American West. In addition to widespread critical acclaim, her books have won multiple national awards. In love with history and rich characters for most of her life, Pam has a B.A. in history, has taught prison inmates, managed the Fort Yuma National Historic Site and run a homeless shelter. She was named the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' Writer of the Year in 2010, chaired three conferences, and now serves as volunteer coordinator. Pam and her life partner Ken live in Denver. Their combined families include six daughters and several grand-children. Together, they parent a dog and a cat. More about Pam on her website.

4 thoughts on “All Those Potential Stories

  1. Hi Pam — I’ve never been able to understand those who say they would love to write but don’t don’t what to write about. Ideas are everywhere, and sometimes they come one at a time and other times it’s like a flood. I pick up dozens of ideas from the newspaper, during idle conversations or presentations at a conference, even while standing in the jetway to board a plane and listening to the person behind me carry on a loud argument on his cell phone. Reading nonfiction and watching documentaries are excellent idea generators. Your post is a good reminder for writers to observe and be ready to grab those ideas as they float by.

  2. I know what you mean, Pat. The ideas are everywhere and it’s impossible for me to ignore them. I have such a file full of them that I could write for years. And I just keep adding to it.

  3. Pamela, this is a terrific post because I’ve never heard anyone describe specifically where their ideas come flooding in for their stories. I keep index cards and a small notebook with me for the reasons you’ve mentioned. Who knows, even a stranger’s slightest body language action might be sculpted into a plot for a story.

  4. Oh, Charlene, how true! Body language can really convey a story. I like your notecard/notebook idea. I’ve scribbled on the back of receipts and on napkins!

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