The Story Idea Engine


As an author I constantly get asked where I get my ideas from. I usually say something like “from all over the place” or “from lots of different places” or something equally as generic and non-committal. If you’ve ever asked me that question and gotten that or something similar for an answer, I apologize. I know it’s rather a non-answer.

English: Thinking, bright idea.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But it’s difficult to say exactly where ideas come from. It’s like saying where dreams come from.

At times, though, I can give specifics and I should. So here goes . . .

I was sitting in church, toward the back, scanning the crowd while the choir sang. Being a people watcher I love doing that. You can catch all kinds of interesting things if you watch folks in church. You learn a lot about them too if you watch closely enough.

Anyway, my eyes fell on this one young couple who had a small boy with them. I don’t know them well but I know who they are. They’ve been attending our church for several years but are a quiet couple and tend to keep to themselves. But then I got to thinking that it seemed their son was the same age years ago. I thought back to the first time I noticed them at our church, probably six years ago, and their son had to be the same age. No way he was six years older than he was six years ago. He didn’t even look six years old now. They have another son that I know of but he hasn’t seemed to age either. And come to think of it, no way they look six years older.

Pop! Story idea: How could a couple keep from aging? How could they remain ageless and no one would notice? This story is about a couple who started attending a church but stayed on the fringes, never really got involved, didn’t make many friends, blended in and became just one of the “Sunday morning crowd.” Only one morning someone notices something not quite right about them. This particular couple never seems to age. Their children never seem to age. For years they’ve remained at the same stage of life.

How could they remain ageless? What if they had a time machine and once a year they travel back in time exactly one year and switch places with themselves. So their doubles (from the past), a year younger, take their place in the present. And every year they do the same thing, always starting over with their age, never moving forward, never aging. How long could they keep this going before more folks started noticing?

(Yes, I was thinking about all this during the church service. I know, shame on me. No need to berate me. I handle that on my own quite fine.)

Now, it’s not the greatest story idea and seems more like something you’d find in a Dr. Who episode but you get the picture for how these things happen. An over-active imagination can pull a story from almost any scenario.

And that’s how I get my ideas. No magic. No “idea books.” No brainstorming sessions. Just looking for extraordinary possibilities in the ordinary life all around me.

I have more of these examples and will share them in future posts.

Question: do every day occurrences get your imagination engine revving? Do you concoct stories in your head about people you meet or see or interact with?

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About mikedellosso

Mike Dellosso is an author of wide-eyed suspense. He writes stories that not only entertain but enlighten.

Posted on July 2, 2013, in Life in General, Writing craft, Writing Life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I guess every reader wonders wehre an author gets their ideas from. Yes, I guess we all realise that writers have an overactive imagination but what I don’t get is where the finer details come from!! I sometimes get ideas but the finer details to flesh out this idea just don’t come!! This was good to see an example of your imagination, Mike!!

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    • Peter, those final details come from mulling an idea over and over and over, putting myself in the shoes of the characters and pulling from life experiences I’ve had or read about or observed. It’s really a conglomeration of so many moving parts, ideas, experiences, etc. There is an aspect, though, of just letting go and allowing the story to tell itself. It’s like of like that saying “life happens.” It’s just happening on paper.

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  2. Kelly Berwager

    I’m a visual artist, but I do the same sort of thing. In fact, I was doing my daily walk the other day & feeling like I didn’t have any ideas for paintings & for a small group I’m co-leading called Paint & Pray. At first I started “trying” to see something around me that would spur on a new painting, but nothing! Then, I as started enjoying the walk and listening to the worship music playing in my ears I started “seeing” things everywhere. In a matter or 100 yards I know I saw 12 robins if not more! Where in the world did they all come from? I hadn’t seen any before then, or had I? Needless to say the next painting project will involve birds, probably some red robins to be specific. Thanks for sharing how you get ideas. I think stuff around us & our vivd imaginations usually make for better art anytime!

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    • Kelly, as you well know being able to see the beauty in things, the extraordinary, the unique, takes training. We have to train our mind to think that way, to see things others don’t, to conjure thoughts that aren’t “natural.” Imagination is a muscle that can be strengthened.

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  3. Very interesting Mike. Thanks for sharing that story. I sit in the back at church and I often find myself wondering about the people in front of me. Unfortunately, I never come up with anything quite so interesting!

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  4. The “What if” question is a great trigger and can lead to strange and fascinating ends – and even some not so workable. It’s fun to see this at work in your imaginings, Mike.

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