Last week I posted about how a story idea came to me while sitting in church, how the extraordinary stood out from the ordinary. There’s plenty more where that came from too.
You see, I have what’s called an overactive imagination. I see stories in everything.
The little old lady walking her dog down a quiet street. The window salesman who I turn away on the front porch. The homeless man asking for help by the traffic light. The single guy who walks alone and takes pictures of other people’s homes (okay, that’s weird but true).
They’re all stories to me, or at least potential stories. It’s something I can’t turn off. My mind runs with even the most mundane activities and creates mayhem and mischief, suspense and surreality.
I consider this a blessing. It’s entertaining, it’s thought-provoking, it comes in great handy when conjuring up story lines and plots and characters and twists and turns.
But it can also be a curse.
Case in point. Last night I was sitting in the living room working on some things for the upcoming week and daughter #2 (D2) was on the front porch with daughter #4, our 2-year-old (D4).
I was really minding my own business, doing my thing, when my imagination kicked on. What if D2 came bursting through the front door: “Dad! Some guy grabbed the baby took off!” I jump up and run outside in time to see the car pull away. We live in a residential area so it’s difficult to pick up speed quickly. I tell D2 to call the cops and set off on foot after the car, running down the middle of the street in my slippers, pumping my arms, tears blurring my vision, willing my legs to move faster. The car is putting distance between us. I pray, “God, please just this once give me inhuman speed.” The car’s front windows are down. If I could just catch up I could cause it to run off the road, into someone’s yard. But the car continues to accelerate and my legs eventually fail. It’s gone. She’s gone. I collapse by the side of the road, panting, sweating, crying, cursing, praying.
And then I wonder how I would react to God. He could have given me strength, could have given me speed. What harm would have come of it? My baby girl would have been saved, she’d be all right. Instead, she’s gone and who knows if we’ll ever see her again? Would I trust him? Curse him for allowing it to happen? Would I question my ability to ever trust him again?
See what I mean? With me it’s not just a wondering . . . what would I do if the baby was taken? No, that’s not enough, it has to be a whole scenario, a story, complete with characters and tension and pivotal moments and questions. Complete with stress and anxiety.
I don’t know where this came from, and I don’t know how to fully use it yet. And I’m still trying to figure out how to control it. But it’s not always a blessing.
So how about you? Do you have an overactive imagination? Has it ever gotten you into trouble?
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.
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?
The most often question any writer gets asked is “Where do you get your ideas?”
A better question would be, “Where don’t you get your ideas?”
Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. I told my class Monday night, writers have to be observers. We can’t just go through our day with tunnel vision like a lot of people do, we have to be watching, observing, looking, so when an idea presents itself, we’ll recognize it. A writer’s brain is never turned off.
Me? I find and recognize ideas in a variety of places. One being the internet news outlets. There’s some weird things out there folks.
Like Wolfie Blackheart, an 18-year-old San Antonio girl who believes she is a werewolf. She even wears a tail and dog collar. One of the things Wolfie enjoys doing is finding dead dogs (road kill and such) and decapitating them, boiling the heads, and sitting the skulls outside for the brains to leak out. She says it’s a taxidermy thing.
No kidding. Hey, maybe it is a taxidermy thing . . . but it’s still weird.
And what’s her mom think of her daughter’s dog ways? “I say, ‘Don’t sever heads in front of me.’ She usually does it in the woods.”
You can read the whole story here. It’s worth it, really. Proves real life is stranger than fiction.
But that’s the kind of story that spurs my imagination and gets me thinking of story lines and plots and characters. Everyday stuff, ripped from the headlines . . .
Normal teenage behavior. Yeah, right.
So where do you like to recognize ideas?