To many people history is boring.
I can understand that. Some history turns me off, while other aspects of history fascinate me. I guess it sometimes depends on the mood I’m in, or the particular aspect of history being discussed, read or shown on television. To many people family history is deadly boring – with and emphasis on the “dead” part.
Some writers complain that they have trouble coming up with ideas for stories and novels. My suggestion is to get hold of a family history book. If your family hasn’t had a family history book published, borrow someone else’s history. I have two family books; one based on my father’s side, the other on my mother’s family. Both are filled with family genealogical diagrams illustrating relationships in the broader family. They also include many interesting but rather stiff upper lip type photos which can be a little amusing today.
But I digress.
Both books contain hundreds of short accounts of the lives of people in my family. Many of these people are now dead. The accounts range from the familiar, mundane and ordinary, through to the unbelievable, adventurous and plain tragic. Take for example the account of my ancestors on my father’s side as they escaped religious persecution in their home land and migrated half way around the world to settle here in South Australia. Several members died on the boat journey out here. The story of the survivors shows great courage and drama. It’s ready made for retelling, possibly best written as fiction.
Any family history book, if it contains accounts of the lives of ordinary people, will be a fertile field ready for harvesting by a creative and imaginative writer. Troll through the book looking for that one story that captures your imagination. Then let that imagination have full rein. Let the story run its course. Don’t necessarily worry about sticking to the facts; you are writing fiction. Writers of historical fiction do this all the time; their stories are fiction based on a true story or actual event.
I hope you find a little gem of a story.
Some writers complain that although they want to write, they just don’t know what to write about. In another life (as a classroom teacher) I constantly heard this complaint.
I rarely have this problem. In fact, I usually have far too many things to write about. My problem is choosing which one to write about first.
There are hidden treasures lurking everywhere. You just have to open your eyes to see the possibilities for writing that can crowd in upon you every day.
Start with everyday objects and let your imagination soar:
- Make a list of twenty (or 50 or…) objects in your bedroom. Now think about one object and how it came into your life. Change this to a really bizarre story. For example, the photo on the dresser is not your mother; it is the photo of a distant relative who was married to a famous explorer or an infamous mass murderer.
- Describe three objects in the room where you are sitting now. Now pick just one of them and imagine you dug it up in the garden. How did it get into your garden, and how is it now influencing your life?
- Look in the refrigerator. Take note of one thing and write about how it came to be there. Give it a life of its own, telling the story of it existence in its own voice.
- Go outside and sit in the garden. Write about the one thing in your garden you really like (or absolutely detest). Write a conversation (or argument) between you and the object.
- Walk to the nearest park with notebook and pencil. Describe one person you passed on the way. Note how they are dressed – and change their attire into something very usual, like a grandma wearing pirate clothing. Use you imagination and let her sit with you to tell her story.
- Visit your nearest shopping center with a notebook and pen and find a seat. Pick out two people in the crowd. Try to imagine what they are saying. Give them new lives, new identities. Let them tell you their story.
- Find an old magazine or newspaper and open it at random, picking out a photo at random. Use the photo as a starting point to your story. For example, if it is a photo of a young man advertising deodorant, imagine him doing something adventurous, or heroic or courageous. Bring the photo – and the subject – to life.
Story ideas are lurking everywhere; you just have to have eyes to see them.
Writing while you sleep?
Now – there’s a thought! Wouldn’t it be ‘luvverly’ if you woke up each morning and the writing pixies had been busy all night on your keyboard? Sure to be nothing but fairy tales though.
Say – there’s another story idea – WHAT IF you wrote a story about pixies writing your story while you slept?
See – I’m full of ideas!
And pleeeeze – do not say I’m off with the pixies! That would be fairy insulting and damaging to my elf-esteem.
(Picks up large jar full of tablets. Looks at clock. Yes – time for my medication.)
Seriously folks – there will be times when you’ve been working hard on a story and you get blocked, or tired or just cannot see where to go next. In those situations it might be better to quit writing, get some good sleep and let your sub-conscious take over for a few hours. Then you can come back to the writing with fresh eyes, and a refreshed mind. Might just work wonders.
The germ of an idea
To write a story or novel the writer needs an idea. Several actually. In fact, a writer probably needs a heap of ideas to finish a novel.
I find that there is usually one spark of an idea that will get me writing. It might be something I’ve seen on television, or shopping, or on holiday, or at the beach or while walking. It could be a photograph, a delicious smell or a memory from years ago.
Once the idea, the spark is there I ask the question: What if? What if the person in that photo was a murderer? What if the dog I saw on my walk was telling me that his master was lying injured in the garden? What if…?
Ideas for my thesis novel
For the last few months I’ve been quite undecided about what to write about for my Master of Arts thesis novel. The crunch time is here: I have to start on this in the next few days. I’ve actually been mulling over five ideas.
- A time fantasy novel set in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia in ancient times.
- A novel featuring two teenagers fascinated by time who find themselves trapped in suspended time.
- A novel drawn from the real life experiences of a member of my family.
- A novel (or even a trilogy) fictionalising the experiences of my forebears and their emigration from Prussia to South Australia in the 1840s, a story of triumph over great tragedy.
- A novel about a small Nepali boy caught in the midst of civil war.
After months of hesitation I’ve settled on the last one. This is the one that draws me to the main character again and again. All of the ideas I’ve listed above are quite valid and I’ll possibly use them all someday. The first four all need considerable research and planning before I can even think about writing a word.
This is also true of the story line I have chosen, but the main character is so strong and prominent in my thinking he needs to escape on to the page.
More about the process in coming days.