Story Ideas 101

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A peak inside the manuscript trunk.
A peak inside the manuscript trunk.

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Joel’s Journal - Entry #76 - 15/1/2017

When I was a teenager, skateboarding was my life.

In the summers, my brother and I would be out on the street until late in the evening, skating beneath the glow of the streetlights. My family lives on a court, so there’s isn’t any through traffic, which allows for hours of uninterrupted skating. Also, the slight incline of the road means the curbs are slightly different heights, creating different features to learn on.

During those years, whenever I wasn’t on my board, whether it was walking or driving somewhere for whatever reason, I would always find great places that would have me thinking, “oh, that would be awesome to skate!”

Whether it was a small set of stairs at a strip mall, or a particularly neat collection of planter ledges or a steep incline of pavement downtown. It wasn’t like I was searching for them, it’s just whenever I would see something new, my board would be the first thing to come to mind.

Now that I’m older, I still get out on my board whenever the mood strikes me and the weather is right, but now, writing is my life.

However, that practice of seeing my passion everywhere I go hasn’t changed.

I was driving home from M’s place tonight, it was dark, and the car was pushing it’s way along a particularly long stretch of road, cutting through the few remaining farm fields to the north of Oshawa. Before you get into the city, there is the hamlet of Columbus. It’s a small town,  even though more and more houses seem to be dotting the road when I drive by each week, but other than that, the place isn’t getting much bigger and it still has the small-town feel, even at night.

You know the feeling I’m talking about. The streets are smaller, there’s the tiny mom and pop shops on the other side of the sidewalks, the gas station, the church. Pretty much all your staples.

And I’m not sure what it is, but small towns always get my imagination whirling.

Perhaps it’s the kind of cozy claustrophobia that comes with small towns. There’s a limited number of people, everyone seems to know everybody, and everybody has a story.

I think that’s what I like the most. As a young writer, a small town feels like a manageable task if I wanted to take it and turn it into words. There’s a lot there, but nothing compared to trying to create an entire city.

There’s also something kind of creepy about small towns. Maybe I’ve read too much Stephen King, but it just seems that as much as the common belief is that everyone knows everyone and everyone knows everyone’s secrets, it always seems to me that there are hidden secrets just waiting to be discovered.

There’s story ideas to be found, that’s for sure.

And that’s the point I wanted to make with skateboarding. In the same way that I used to see skate spots everywhere I looked, now, I see story ideas and characters.

Sitting at the red light, perhaps the only light in the entire town, I glanced over a the small sport shop sitting on the corner.

The windows are dark right now, but in the day time, I can picture a wide, beefy dude, perhaps with a white beard and wearing a thick long-sleeve shirt standing behind the counter. I can smell the musty smell of old hockey equipment and rubber pucks. Behind the man is a large, metal looking machine with a spinning belt used for sharpening skates, I would think.

There’s the gas station up ahead, and I can practically see the quirky attendant behind the counter. Perhaps he’s a burnout kid wearing a misfits tee and reading Mad magazine. Or maybe he’s the main character in our story. How could I sell that to the reader?

And it goes on and on.

It really is endless, and it doesn’t always have to be brought on by something that’s staring me in the face. On particularly long, black stretches of road, I’ll just create things for myself. They are usually, “what if” scenarios.

What if my car broke down? I get out to check the engine and I hear a noise. What is it? Or perhaps the second I step out a beam of light shoots out from the woods, a flashlight maybe?

Or, what if there’s suddenly a stranger standing on the shoulder? Or perhaps directly in the middle of the road. We know from Stephen King’s Children of the Corn this never ends well. 

In my story though I could perhaps turn this on it’s head and the stranger is actually good just in a bad situation, or she just experienced something that is going to draw our main character into something he or she never expected.

You get the picture.

That is really the answer to a question I’ve received many times, like many other writers. That being, where do you get your ideas from?

Well, there you have it, I find them, and you can find them too,  you just have to be looking I guess.

Hope you all had a great weekend! Today, make sure you do what you love, and do it well.

Thanks for reading,