There Once Was a Yodeling Goat: How Do You Come Up With Story Ideas?

This incredible sky happened the other day. It is not photoshopped at all.

Not long ago, I started writing a new story.  It startled me a bit, because the idea did not come upon me the way that my ideas usually do.  Let me explain how my muse works.

I will be walking along, minding my own business, when I will hear a voice in my head.  Now, most people, upon hearing disembodied voices coming from inside their skulls, will do one of two things:

  • Oy! Who are you?  GET OUT BEFORE I CALL THE…ER… BRAIN POLICE!  HELPHELPHELP! (to which the voice chuckles malevolently and starts singing a song about polka dotted elephants…)
  • Oh, hello, who are you?  Ah, that’s nice.  What are you doing in my head?  Well, as long as you keep it tidy up there, I don’t mind.  Wait… you’d like me to do what?  Very well, if you say so…

Well, writers who hear voices often have a different experience.  We know that the voices just want to be heard and to come out on a page.  They want to be free of our heads as much as we want to let them out.  So, when I hear a voice saying something interesting or odd, I pause, listen, and then consider: what story would that make?

For instance, my serial in our e-zine, a story I dubbed The Holder Wars, begins with the line:

It all started the day they chased me out of the village with pitchforks.

I wondered… what started?  Who is this person?  And thus, Mikaela and her world of problems was born.  She hasn’t thanked me for it, either.

I was lounging on the couch doing absolutely nothing useful when the first line of my story Silence began to chant creepily in my brain:

Be afraid of the things that go bump in the night; but be more afraid of the things that make no sound at all.

That one lurked about for a while before I finally figured out what was actually haunting Kieran.  Or, well, what might be haunting him.

What do these pictures have to do with this post? Well, they have a common theme that inspired my latest story...

The fact is, my method of discovery is to start small, as small as a line of dialogue or a picture in my head or a character.  From there, I build a story around it until I have the world and the plot.

But the other day, a story konked me on the head (as stories do) and it was a world and a half-baked plot, not a character or a line of dialogue.  I had a big picture without the small details.  It was, frankly, alarming.  That’s now how I do things!  I am currently struggling with it (it has the audacity to be science fiction, which I never EVER write) and hopefully it will show up in a later edition of the e-zine.

So I wondered about the rest of you.  How have your stories come to you?  Do they creep stealthily in and start with a line or a voice or a face?  Do they parade grandly across your imagination in a slowly expanding world?  Do you see a climactic moment and work backwards to the beginning or do you think of a beginning before you know where it’s headed?

How does your muse work?

But I'm not going to tell you what my new story is about. Enjoy the pictures. You'll find out later!

Now, some of you are saying, ‘But I don’t write stories!’ or ‘I haven’t had a story idea in ages… what do I do?’

Well, I suppose I can help kickstart a story for you…  Just fill in the blanks:

There once was a _______ (girl, boy, yodeling goat named Angelo) who lived in a __________ (magical pink palace, hole in the ground, peach cobbler) and one day he/she decided to _____________ (wrestle a dragon, make a sandwich, kidnap the offspring of the local royal)…

There.  I can do no more.

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About Melissa

generally in love with things Celtic, mythological, fantastic, sharp and pointy, cute and fuzzy, intellectual, snarky, cheerful, or some combination thereof. Such things as sarcastic bunnies wielding claymores might come to mind...

Posted on March 13, 2012, in Art, Fantasy, Humor, Inspiration, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Melissa Rogers, Photography, Story, World Creation, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. I love how your one-liners start a whole new world playing inside your head! Writing is so much fun!

  2. Calliope is my ex, so when she visits, she is a cruel mistress. My story ideas tend to come in fits of hallucination or as a vivid but static picture. Then I have to figure out the story behind a fever dream or a flash of colour before the picture fades. Its not fun.

  3. My muse is cruel. He waits till I’m almost asleep and WAM hits me with ten tons of story. UGH

    • Haha, I can’t tell you how many times that’s happened to me. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Mikaela’s first line was like that. I was trying to sleep because it was night time and I was tired and that’s what you do at night time when you are tired and I just kept hearing something about pitchforks and it wouldn’t go AWAY until I got up, went to my computer, and typed out everything that was in my head. Two hours later, I was finally allowed to pass out.

  4. I love how you get a first sentence and you’re away! I’m not so good with first sentences. However, I often hear a conversation or one very snappy line of dialogue in my head that I end up building something around it. Or sometimes I just see a “movie” of a scenario in my mind that I wish could happen and I think, “‘ang on a minute, I could use this!” and down on paper it goes. Then it takes on a life of its own until it is boss instead of me, and a million miles away from the original scenario! 😀

  5. Yes, that’s exactly how my poems grow. A good iambic pentameter (or dactylic dimeter or what have you) line pops into my head and demands an entire sonnet (or ballad, or ode, or what have you) to live in, and won’t shut up until all the construction work is done so it can move in–which sometimes takes months or years. By then, seven other lines more demanding than he have moved in to my head and won’t leave until I have built them an English country estate of their very own. The Muse is a cruel taskmistress–but life would be empty if she left. Muses: can’t live with them, can’t live without them . . .

  6. Love this post! Your responses to the “voice” made me laugh. So true that creativity and story idea’s come from all different directions if we stay open to them. Great insight!

  7. I had a Japanese exchange student character named Lucy Yakamoto pop into my head many years ago. She took me for a ride and a half, into areas I did not want to explore as a screenwriter than later novelist. The odd thing about Lucy is that she bumped another character from a story that I was working on. I can’t say that Lucy did not bring excitement into my writing, but with much discomfort on my part.

    You just never know who will show up.

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