Ideas From the Most Ordinary Sources

classifiedsIt doesn’t matter whether you’re a professional novelist or a middle-school student assigned to write a short story. To find new character, conflict, and plot ideas, pay close attention to ordinary life around you. More precisely, look at what people buy, sell, and eat.

At lunchtime—either at school or work—notice the selections, whether purchased on site or bagged and brought from home.

Chili, corn chips, and baklava? You may imagine a south Texan introvert living with his Greek grandmother, and there’s the start of an interesting situation. (So as not to hurt anyone’s feelings, begin with a compliment if you’re unsure what a particular delicacy is. “That looks/smells good. What’s it called?”)

In a grocery or discount store checkout line, strange combinations of purchases may inspire you.

Bandages and a set of kitchen knives (for a clumsy chef?)

Tomatoes and an opera CD (for a disgruntled patron of the arts?)

Now I’m thinking of a story about a chef who is also a disgruntled patron of the arts and goes on a killing spree at an opera house.

And don’t forget to look in the classified ads for hidden gems.

There’s one from many years ago I’ll always remember.

FOR SALE: Loveseat and a pair of women’s motorcycle boots

Now that’s a writing prompt.

What kind of ordinary thing or situation has sparked an idea for a character or story for you?

14 thoughts on “Ideas From the Most Ordinary Sources

  1. Reading my Bible is how I get ideas for blog posts. I find that if I’m having trouble finding something to write about, it means I haven’t been doing my daily devotional time.

    I love the ideas you present here. A great idea for inspiration! And I love watching what and how people eat. It tells you a lot about a person with regard to how they were brought up and how their mind works. Some people won’t mix their food. Some people eat things in a certain order. Some people bring the same thing for lunch every day. It’s crazy.

    Great post, Cyn!


  2. Thanks, Lisa! I agree that how a person eats tells a lot about him. We’ve all seen the exceptionally neat, methodical eater and the fast, messy type who eats like the house is on fire. You can imagine what’s going on in their heads. 🙂


  3. Oh oh oh, I’ve got one!! I was in an American airport customs line up and when we finally got to the officer, we heard him humming the Canadian Anthem. (He was American) That just cracked me up!


  4. I want those motorcycle boots.


  5. I often write in a corner booth at the local McDonald’s. I’m continually in awe of the conversations that people obviously forget they are having within earshot of other restaurant patrons. Talk about writing inspiration! 😉 I once overheard a group of 4 teenage guys have a very candid conversation about the very subject of my blog. Can’t wait to put the experience and their words of teenaged-wisdom to paper.


  6. Hmm, my ideas come from thinking “why?” or “what if?” but from all sorts of different places. One came from watching some animals interact at the zoo (one little guy seemed left out by the others), one came from a Chuck Colson BreakPoint radio broadcast about survival of the fittest, etc. I’ve never paid attention to what people eat or buy – I’m more likely to get distracted by the expression on the face of the elderly man eating by himself in the corner, when a toddler waves at him, or the young dad with 3 kids in the cart doing the grocery shopping by himself.


  7. Sparksofember, I love to watch animals too. I have three dogs, so I see relationships that could easily translate to human characters. Thanks for the comment and the reminder to take notes!


  8. I like to sit in the student union of the University I work at. My favorite place is where all the student organization offices are. Watching the oddest assortment of people walk past me, I can spot galactic fugitives hiding out from Biped, carnivorous bounty-hunters. There are also wandering spirits, royal member incognito, and a few of the worst, villainous, scum to crawl across my imagination. There are also men dressed as women, and women dressed as men. The occasional transmogrified pet hiding out for the day.


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