Friday, September 30, 2011

How Do Story Ideas Strike You?

Story ideas strike me at the most unexpected times and in the least expected way. Whenever, anyone asks me how  do I get the Inspiration for my stories (in this case I am talking of the short stories I have written; around 60 stories ranging from 1000 words to 4500 words, which have all been published in newspapers and books), I wonder how do I explain to a non-writer how does this happen.

The Inspiration for my first book ‘The Lion Who Wanted to Sing,’ jumped into my mind while I was meditating. In that brief moment of calm, an image of a Lion gazing at the sky flashed into my mind.  The title too just popped into my mind as though someone had whispered it into my ear. The story idea just unspooled from that brief vision. And that vision became the book cover image.

Sometimes, I just see an image of a character or maybe two characters and the story starts frothing in my mind. Many times, I even start with a title which acts like a prompt and the story starts building around the title. I know it sounds strange, but that’s the way my brain gets its dose of Inspiration.

At times even a conversation with a writing friend on Facebook can trigger a plot point or unleash a story idea hiding in the back of my mind. At those times I am extremely grateful for the distraction provided by the internet; it becomes a blessing more than a nuisance. And I secretly bless the writing friend for her indirect inspiration.

Most of my chapter outlines fall into place with chapter titles that just pop into my mind as though someone was urging me to write about it. I just adore these flashes of Inspiration moments. I just wish they were more frequent and occurred at least once a day.

That’s why veteran writers talk about jotting down everything that is churned out by our mind: both the conscious and the Sub-conscious mind. We never know when these nuggets of gems may turn out to be the cues that can propel our writing to greater heights.

I know it’s different for every writer. We all have our unique ways of tackling our writing. Many writers I know see their stories in their dreams. I would love to know how story ideas approach you? Do characters come begging at your doorstep pleading with you to write their stories? Or do the story ideas fall into your head fully formed and you all just start writing? How do ideas strike you?


  1. What a wonderful post, Rachna. Its great that you get your ideas while meditating. I am sure your stories must be wonderful. Thanks for sharing this post.

  2. How does one get to read your stories, Rachna? I'd like to get a book of your children's stories.

  3. I usually begin with a first line. Most of the time I have no idea what I’m going to write, no plan. I was on a bus once in Glasgow with a friend from Kilmarnock on the west coast of Scotland. He had a strong west coast accent, quite different to the gruff Glaswegian that I heard around me every day and at one point in the conversation he said to me, “Ma wife says Ah'm too serious.” I have no idea how the rest of the conversation went but that one line stuck with me. I went home, sat at my desk, wrote down that line and imagined a conversation, not the specific conversation between my friend and his wife but simply a conversation that might have begun with that line. And I kept the accent throughout.

    Another time my wife and I were sitting in a café on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. At the table next to us were twin girls, young women, with glorious ginger hair – so your archetypal Scots beauties – sitting under a thundercloud having their tea. They looked as if they had had a falling out. Anyway eventually they paid for their meal, got up and left and when my wife and I got back to Glasgow we both sat down and wrote stories imagining what was going on with this couple. Mine begins:

          “Lucy, give me twelve pence.”
          I fished my purse out of my bag: “Here’s fifteen.” I shoved a five and a ten across the table at her.
           “I don’t need fifteen. I need twelve.” Bo could make even the smallest act of generosity feel like some heinous crime.

    Again, though, I had no idea where the story was going. It just began with twin girls squabbling over a tip in a café.

  4. Ideas are like butterflies. They sit on my shoulder when I'm quiet and otherwise distracted.

  5. Wow, 60 stories? You're a very prolific writer.

    I have a writer friend who gets her stories from her dreams. I have no such luck--I'm too tired to remember dreams most of the time, though there are a few that stick with me even after I wake up. And they're usually the nightmarish kind.

    Prompts help--an image, photo, a line. Sometimes I just sit and stare at the screen, fingers poised over the keyboard, and though i have no idea what the story is about, the words come and I type away. The story eventually forms itself, and sometimes I have to brainstorm to get the pieces out.

    Meditation seems like a good way of grasping inspiration. I think I might try that. :)

    Great post, Rachna!

  6. @ Meera..thanks.

    @ books are available online on Flipkart.

    @ Jim...I must surely give your idea a try. Its sounds good. Its such a unique way, a writing prompt by itself. Infact, I am going out tomorrow, will try it then.

    @ Tabitha...Tabitha I envy your butterflies. They sound absolutely sweet.

    @ Cherie...I too never get my story ideas in my dreams, though I dream a lot and remember most of them. Try the meditation, it works wonders :)

  7. What a lovely and interesting post. I have a notebook with me at ALL times and can be inspired by snippets of conversation (eg 'I've never liked those flower pots!') weather, place names....almost anything. My latest flash came from playing with a ring on my finger!

    I also find a 'what if?' scenario fabulous inspiration.

  8. Very cool post:) My big question for you is how to write a short-story without it morphing into a novel. This often happens to me:)

  9. @ Margo...glad to see you back in Blogosphere. I have not yet tried the "what if?" method. Will give it a shot.

    @ Mark...I have replied to your question on your blog. Its not all that difficult at all :)

  10. I look at it as a puzzle sometimes. I will have a scene or two that I like, maybe a few lines of dialog to start. Then its character building time and I figure out where I want the story to go to make sure I hit the things I want. Sprinkle in the bits you tend to forget about like romance, comedy, action, and use of all five senses. Cook on high for 35 minutes and its done.

  11. My short stories are picture books, like your sweet story. One of them came from praying and reading an article. I also get ideas when I'm riding my horses. You'd be amazed at the ideas that are positioned in nature. A little ant carrying his load gave me a great idea for a story. A cool breeze blowing across my face, my shirt fluttering. Which then makes me think about the breeze causing the gates to creak. All ideas. You know, Rachna? They're everywhere. :-)

  12. First of all, congratulations on all your writing credits--that is fantastic! As for ideas, I find a lot of my ideas come on my morning walks. Something triggers an idea, and on the way home I find myself plotting it out :-)

  13. Ideas just fall into my head and I start writing. That's just the way it works for me. Sometimes I plug in short stories I have previously written. This is great because boom, I just increased my page count bu fifteen pages.

  14. Whats a best practice for the length of a short story?

  15. I don't write many stories, and it's maybe different with poetry, but many of the poems I am most satisfied with began as a phrase that just came into my mind. Most often it will be while I am reading or writing or just thinking about a book I have been reading, but the phrase will not have any obviously close connection with any of those activities. It will not be a phrase from the book or anything I have been writing about. It's rare that I know where it originated.

  16. What a lovely post. It sounds like you have a really lively writerly brain Rachna.

    I sometimes get such inspiration though latterly my brain was in such a fog with my health condition that I couldn't think straight let alone think creatively! Thankfully the fog has begun to clear.

  17. Story ideas come at the least likely times. And who knows what triggers them. It's why I try to always take a notebook with me everywhere I go. If I don't jot down the ideas straight away I forget them.

  18. An enlightening post! Enjoyed reading