It seems like lately I’ve been bombarded with everyday inspiration. There are novel ideas waiting around every turn. And the more everyday inspiration I absorb, the more I want to write.

Everyday Inspiration: Fiction Ideas for the Taking

Original photo byDimitris Adalialis
So, this may sound like bragging. And if you’re in the middle of some very intense writer’s block, I apologize. (Did you watch my YouTube video on how to get over writer’s block? That may help you.) But I’m just so shocked at how many ideas I’ve had come my way lately. It’s crazy.

And I feel like I need to state for the record that I don’t consume a whole lot of media. Sure, I read books and blogs, and I watch a show or two on Netflix. But I don’t have a TV in my house. (This isn’t a political statement, I just know that I don’t have the willpower to keep one in my home. If I had one, I’d channel surf all day long.) I also try to be pretty vigilant about how my internet time is spent. And while I value productivity, I want to make sure I consume enough things to fill the well of ideas inside my brain.

You can see how it’s a delicate balance to take in the right kinds of stuff and not take in the crap.

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So where am I finding this inspiration for fiction ideas if not from other fiction? Well, let me tell you. And you’re going to be surprised when I tell you that the majority of it comes from things I encounter every single day. Whether I’m listening to the radio or walking to work, I’m constantly inspired by my surroundings, and I’m dumbstuck by how many fiction ideas I get.

Everyday Inspiration

001: Podcasts.

Full disclosure: I don’t listen to that many podcasts. (I know there are a ton I would love. I just don’t have a consistent time or place where I can dig into them.) And the ones I do listen to are generally NPR shows that have been turned into podcasts. In most cases, I’m listening to these shows on the radio. And while it may seem weird to feel inspired by NPR, it’s totally legit. Some great shows to check out for story ideas (though you probably don’t need me to tell you this) are This American Life, Reveal, and Snap Judgement. In fact, the novel idea I’m working on right now has elements of an episode of Snap Judgement.

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What makes these shows/podcasts so special? Well, all of them focus on real people and things that happened to them. This means you’re getting events, emotions, and the fall out of those things. And while I definitely don’t think you should take the stories shared in these podcasts and put them in your fiction verbatim, I do think that these shows provide a great source of inspiration that you can mold to fit into a story. And these are especially great if you’re looking to up the stakes of your story with emotions.

002: Obscure History.

Depending on where you live and how obsessed your secondary schooling was with state history, this may or may not apply to you. But I live in Oklahoma, and Oklahoma History was a big deal growing up. In the fourth grade, we watched an Oklahoma-centered PBS miniseries and re-enacted the land run. (I’m not down with land run re-enactments as an adult, and feel they are incredibly problematic. Also, as an activity in an elementary school, it was a great opportunity for everyone to get injured on Radio Flyer wagons and leave school covered in mud.) In high school, we had an entire class dedicated to Oklahoma History. And if I had a dollar for every time a teacher showed the musical, Oklahoma! in class, I’d be rich as hell.

(It’s worth noting that the musical, while pretty okay, isn’t indicative of what it was really like on the Oklahoma prairie during the early days of statehood. And I can’t prove it, but I think our high teen pregnancy rates are definitely caused by abstinence only sex ed, and maybe a little by that Ado Annie song from the musical about how she’s a girl who cain’t say no.)

And while I’m no longer in school, I do work at a university that existed before statehood. I’m constantly surrounded by history. Buildings are named after weird folks, and there are photos on the walls from the late 1890s. It’s hard not to absorb it all. In fact, in my writing group, two of us (myself and another writer) are using a historical building that we grew up learning about as a pretty big plot point in our stories. And we did this without even knowing about it. So don’t underestimate the power of state history. And if your state is half as sketchy as Oklahoma, you’ll have plenty of weird stuff to work from.

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003: Architecture.

I’m not talking about fancy architecture here. I’m talking about weird architecture. Think weird crawlspaces in old houses. Think rooms added on to buildings that obviously covered something up. Think buildings that seemed to kill a lot of people in the building process. Granted, this may seem unreal if you live in a relatively new area that’s full of the same type of suburban houses and strip malls. But I promise if you take a day trip to an old town, you’ll walk away with one zillion ideas.

Here’s where working at an older university comes in handy again. Off the top of my head, I can think of old doorways that have been bricked over. I can think of glass blocks used as flooring in the library stacks. I can think of new wings added onto old buildings that created weird hallways that weren’t there before. I can think of the darkest staircase where it seems to absorb all sound. I can think of tunnels that lead from building to building that are mostly closed, but open if you’re clever.

Do you see how all these things are just begging to be a plot point in a story?

004: Urban Legends.

I love urban legends. I think it’s because I grew up in a town that was actively demolishing history to make way for more Walmart stores and gas stations. Every little bit of history was paved over to make way for progress. And in doing that, it seemed that there weren’t any urban legends left. But now, I live in a city that boasts being built on an Indian burial ground as the reason why tornadoes don’t touch down here. And what better urban legend could there be? Well, except for the speculation around the mass grave they found in a cemetery a few years ago. That was a pretty big deal for the urban legend mill.

(Note: I’m aware of how problematic the Indian burial ground as tornado protection urban legend is. But, it’s interesting to note how much of Norman once belonged to Native Americans, and how much of Lake Thunderbird is literally on a burial ground.)

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Think about your local urban legends and superstitions. Depending upon where you live, you very well may have a “crybaby bridge” or a witch who lives near a lake. Whatever you have, ruminate on it. There’s so much story that urban legends leave out, and that’s where you get to have the most fun as a writer. But, a word of caution: Make sure you aren’t appropriating anything. If the so-called urban legend is actually a tradition that belongs to a cultural group in your area and you’re not a part of that group, sorry. You don’t get to use it.

005: Zillow or Trulia.

I spend more time on Zillow than I should admit. I’m not currently in the market, and I know that looking at houses now is a waste of energy since by the time I’m ready to buy, other stuff will be listed. But I love looking at old houses and getting a vibe for certain neighborhoods. And it’s especially a great tool if you’re trying to create a neighborhood from scratch in your writing, and don’t have the necessary vocabulary to describe the houses. I love making random real estate agents do my job for me by scouring listings.

But one of my favorite things is to look at old houses that haven’t been updated since they were built. And a lot of times, those pictures will still have the old furniture in them. Oh, and let’s not forget all the real estate listings that go viral because those houses are full of creepy clown marionettes or porcelain demon dolls. JUST TRY TO TELL ME YOU DON’T WANT TO WRITE HORROR STORIES ABOUT THOSE.

I could write an entire novel about the creepy stuff on Zillow. Click To Tweet

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Where Do You Find Everyday Inspiration?

What do you walk by every single day that triggers your imagination? What do you see online that tickles your brain into writing a story? What weird thing goes on in your home town that’s just begging to be written? What podcasts do you recommend for finding stories to tell?

6 Responses

  1. Being a desert rat I get a lot of inspiration from roaming the desert and photographing abandoned places. My imagination goes into overdrive with all the weird, creepy shit that could have happened. One place in Baker, California gives me the creeps nearly every time I stop there (even in total daylight), but I am drawn to it and its sign so I tolerate the creepy vibe.

    Other places that have served as some interesting areas of inspiration are my old stomping grounds in the SF Bay Area. Many areas were once Native American land and hoo boy have I heard some crazy urban legends and ghost stories. There are some areas you don’t want to be in at night (but probably would anyway just to intentionally creep the shit out of yourself).

    1. Every time I listen to or watch Critical Role, I immediately want to start writing! I can’t believe I didn’t think of that when I was writing this post.

  2. I’ve always been fascinated by houses and the use of them in writing. Anita Shreve actually has a few novels that all take place in the same house, but in different time periods (so also with different characters) and I love the idea of that house being the backdrop for three different stories. (Also, it’s so sad to mention her right now since she just passed away. I’ve actually been a fan of hers since I was in high school, so I’ve been really sad since I heard.)

    1. I’ve never read any Anita Shreve, but you’ve convinced me I should. Also, if you haven’t read Rooms by Lauren Oliver, I recommend it. It’s interesting how different residents talk about the same house.

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