Friday, May 21, 2010

The age old question

Answer: Look around you.
Question: From where do you get your story ideas?

Our lives are full of stories. Little snippets we view every day could, possibly, be turned into short stories, or, with a little time and effort, full novels. Here are a few examples out of my life.

Across a couple of parking lots from the motel where I work is a car wash. It's where they put together the Des Moines Register late at night for morning local distribution. I hear clanking and shuffling every night. Several cars drive up, stay for a few minutes, then leave. I see only shadows and vague figures and hear occasional voices. My mind imagines what is REALLY going on over there. With all of the cars and the activity...Drug distribution? Something else? And why don't the cops ever patrol over there? Are they in on the nefariousness?

I know a family who until recently (and who knows since we're pretty much out of touch these days), could have had their lives portrayed upon the small screen in a soap opera. Every time I heard news of the next scandal, it amazed me. And just like a soap, the drama continued into the next couple of generations.

My apartment building, ever since I moved in eight years ago, has had a good turnover rate of tenants. And every one of them, other than the elderly lady downstairs who died a few years ago, has been a criminal in some form. Felon, drug dealer, drug user, statutory rape, embezzler. Even the landlord has been arrested and gone through his share of troubles. Can you imagine the possible stories?

At the motel where I work I see scads of unique individuals who have potential to become characters in stories. I loved watching one particular family a few years ago. The mother was slouched in the overstuffed lobby chair, relaxed, maybe with one leg over the arm of the chair; one daughter was serene and quiet and the other was prim and proper sitting on the very edge of the couch. Then there was the Mennonite man, his wife and daughter. He sat at the table, arms crossed, while the wife served and every time she'd say something he'd say, “What?” so she'd have to repeat it. Truck drivers, golfers, college students, race fans/drivers, Vermeer ag machine dealers, target shooting competitors. Listening to their stories can be quite enlivening.

“Yeah, and he showed up at the site two hours early, and has to just sit there. I heard he came in the previous night and immediately went out to the bar. You know he was hungover when he got behind the wheel.”

“Well Bob, I use the Hornet D5 Max’s, but I heard you don’t have to de-burr the flash hole. The Lyman ain’t as good as the RCBS; they’re too sensitive to florescent lights.”

“And I told the guy, don't stick your hand in there; don't even mess with that. You think he listened? Next day, he 'bout lost all his fingers.”

“And one trip, I hauled a load of television sets from Utah to Maryland. Hail and thunderstorms all the way.”

“Then coming back to the motel, we lost our way and ended up leading the wedding party all the way to the park. Isn't that funny?”

Open your ears, open your eyes and you will be amazed and amused by what happens around you. Catch it quick, jot it down or have a wonderful memory. See if some little scene in your daily life could be turned into a story.

From where do stories originate? Well, the fiction comes from the creative mind of the writer. The fiction is influenced by a lot of truth from the real world.

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