(This posting originally appeared on The Melt-Ink Pot)
I find myself in a situation that’s unique in my life so far: I have more paid time off from work than I am allowed to carry over into the next fiscal year. I’m in a “use it or lose it” situation. As a result, I’ve scheduled several days off for various purposes.
I’m planning to use one of those days for “writing research” — a friend and I are going to drive up to Kimball, Nebraska to visit the hometown of Phoebe Caldicott, the MC in my space pirate series. I’ve been to Kimball before, but not recently, so I thought it would be fun to go up, have a look around, maybe even pick out the “house where she grew up” and “the place where she lived at the start of the story.” And of course we will visit the Kimball Public Library, Phoebe’s place of employment.
Another day (next Tuesday) is blocked out as “writing brainstorming day”. Since I signed up for a summer writing challenge, and since I decided to make it a real challenge for myself by writing short stories (or perhaps novellas, knowing me), I need to start stockpiling story ideas and writing prompts now. The problem is, as everyone knows, that ideas can be elusive little critters. The surest way I know of to draw a complete and total mental blank is to sit down at my keyboard and say, “Okay, I’m gonna have an idea now.”
So this is going to be an experiment for me. I’m going to see if it’s possible for me to generate ideas “on command”. My plan — such as it is — is to take myself out somewhere, outside my usual routine, and see what happens. I plan to go somewhere where there are lots of people to watch — perhaps the 16th Street Mall downtown* — and just watch people interacting with each other and with their environment. I’ll ride the mall shuttle and eavesdrop on people’s conversations (sometimes snippets of overheard conversations make the best writing prompts!). I’ll take my new camera and try to take pictures that tell stories, or at least ones that could inspire stories. And hopefully, I’ll come up with at least a few new story ideas.
I’ve never done this sort of thing before, so I have no idea whether it will work or not. I’ll report back next week and let you know how it went.
When you try to generate story ideas, what works best for you?
* For those of you who aren’t familiar with downtown Denver, the 16th Street Mall is a pedestrian mall that runs from Broadway to Union Station. Basically, they completely closed down the street to motorized traffic, except for the mall shuttle buses that run more-or-less continuously along its length. When they created it, back in the early ’80’s, a lot of people were sure it would never work, that it was just going to finish the already-advanced decay of downtown Denver. Boy, were they wrong. Thirty years later, it’s a bustling, thriving part of downtown. It also has free wi-fi.