Where Do The Stories Come From

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-brush-palette-knife-painting-image20867349A long time creative non-fiction writer (and friend) used asked me how to questions about the spooky art of fiction writing, all the time. Anyone who calls him or herself a fiction writer (maybe that’s writer of fiction, hmm?)  is always asked, Where did you get the idea for the story? And How does it work, you know, when you get an idea?

For the record, I don’t think there is a one-size fits all way to create. If you think of yourself as a writer–and you don’t have to be a writer to write, you might find joy in writing for the sake of it–you would answer this question differently depending on your respective approach to the blank page.  Me too, depending on the story and where it came from, as it’s never the same.  I had a flash of an idea recently and took a few moments to transcribe the event for my friend, and in the, cannot live without writer journal.


This is how it works…

Your sitting at your desk reading through the editor’s edits when the doorbell rings. Damn, I’m only half dressed. You grab the yoga pants, the ones you bought at Sports Basement, from the edge of the unmade bed, and slip one foot, then the other into the legs of the pants, and pull them up as you walk barefoot across the living room hardwood floor. You’re aware of the dust bunnies multiplying under the farmhouse table but you refuse to allow that thought to settle. Writing comes first. You wish for the millionth time that you had a wife to take care of you.  You reach the front door and pull it open just as the FedEx guy is walking back down the redbrick path your husband and son put down after Christmas, to his truck.

“Hi,” you squeak out. The beefy, thick, necked, driver turns around.

“Thought I missed you,” he says walking back down the path. He reaches the door and hands you the package, which you scrutinize.


To: Rosa Guerra

Package from:  Estafeta, Mex.

You lift your eyes to the driver’s and say, “Not me, wrong address,” and hand the FedEx, letter size, package back to him.

“What address is this…?” You tell him. There is an apology, which you wave off before closing the door so you can get back to your edits. You make a detour to the kitchen for another cup of coffee. Midway through the pour you see a woman, maybe five foot, curly brown hair with streaks of gold, highlights probably, purplish colored eyes, natural or contacts? You can’t be sure. She isn’t real. She’s in your head.  You think to yourself, why do these characters always show up when I’m working on something else.  You know you can’t do anything about it, not that you would if you could. The coffee pot is left on the brown tile counter next to the half filled cup.

Before returning to the edits you do what you always do when a character and story drop in unannounced, open a new document and type. Later, after the edits you know you have to finish, you’ll come back to the file and figure out who the woman with curly brown hair is.


Wrong Address

The FedEx—letter sized—packaged arrived at 2102 Cherry Lane, Friday afternoon.  Ted, the driver was in a hurry. It was after five and he had a date with the divorcee from 2045 two streets over. She was lonely she told him. Dinner, wine, no television, and a night you’ll never forget she had said. He wasn’t going to miss that or her. He dropped the package on the doorstep and trotted back to his truck. He’d learn on Monday, after and much too late, two things: 1) the packaged required a signature, and 2) it was meant for 2210, a bit further down the street.


And this is how it goes inside of my head all the time. Welcome to the world between.


Have you experienced a moment, which took your mind on a trip you hadn’t intended to take?  Where did it lead you?


Post script – my friend, the non-fiction writer, doesn’t ask me how to questions anymore. She’s given into her alter ego and is now penning her first imagined story.


I’m a writer and hoarder of one-size-fits-all panty hose. Until the hose fits over my bum, I write to provide an alternative view on writing and perfection.

30 thoughts on “Where Do The Stories Come From

  1. Oh yeah, that happens all the time, especially when I’m driving. I’ll get a glimpse of someone in a house, or walking by. See a name on a truck for a business that I don’t know anything about, like Marine Electrical Service. I may have mention this before but my favorite spark is a woman jogging with a dog on a leash. In the dogs mouth is a ratty old sneaker. What if I was a killer who’d buried a body in the forest they’d just come from? I recognize the shoe as I’m driving by them and panic. I zip around and follow her back to her house and wonder what else that damn dog might have dug up or will dig up. I still haven’t gotten round to writing this story yet but it is a good example of how thing play out in a writer’s mind. You constantly play “What if?”
    Lynne Favreau recently posted….Letter to my Daughters: Real and ImaginedMy Profile

    • Lynne – It’s always there isn’t, the world we live in and the one we see with our inner eyes? My daughter gave me an idea today. She was babbling away about her hairdresser being a former ‘carney girl’. My mind was gone. Seconds later I heard, “Mommy, no, you can’t interview her.” I never even asked her. I guess she knows me well.

  2. I am ALWAYS getting hijacked from the story I want to write, that I am in the middle of, to the story that demands immediate attention.

    Like a tall, lanky man with danger in his smile, running his eyes up and down my body and growling, “I want you NOW.” And since I’m easy, I usually give in – at least to the point of taking notes.
    Beverly Diehl recently posted….Seriously Sick SeriesMy Profile

  3. Haha! It’s funny the scenario you ended up writing down. I kept imagining what he thought about this pretty woman opening the door, and him having the wrong package just to make small talk with her!

    Great post. Ideas come from everywhere and nowhere–a dream as much as a name or a brown curl.

    • Kiersi – Tis true, we never know. I wrote a poem about this once.. about a woman explaining to her lover how she saw the world, and how he couldn’t zip of his Levis fast enough and bolt.

  4. Yes, yes, yes, this is exactly how it works! Like the other evening when I drove down to the beach to sit in the car and wait for my kids from the train. Well now, I really must park in that place more often! I picked up 3 stories, all involving old men – 1 with a pair of binoculars, another with a dog sitting beside him in the front of the car and to all intents and purposes they looked like they were talking to one another, and the other with a rucksack, a pair of ancient hob-nail boots and a hiking stick. And these were all octogenarians! Another great post from the marvellous mind of Brenda! :) xxx
    Edith recently posted….Writing Ghost StoriesMy Profile

    • Edith – I like the guy with the nap sack. Yes, you do need to spend more time at the train station. I am leaving for London on Wednesday, looking forward to taking lots of pictures for my character library.

  5. I think that happens all the time to writers. I think we process the world a bit differently. I think we hear conversations and see the way someone moves their hair from their eyes or leaves a bit too quickly…or a pastoral scene that must be described with something animate….etc., etc.

    Enjoyed this piece – the details – I could see it all in my mind.
    Barbara recently posted….Tulip-topiaMy Profile

    • Barbara – you articulated the second half of this piece brilliantly. It’s like seeing a bad-good guy, the type women love to hate, know they should stay away from but don’t. I see one and I am writing in my head..”fascinating, irresistible to women, supremely assure of his power, but utterly callous when he’s had his way with her…”

  6. You really captured what it’s like to have a creative mind. My brain never shuts up, especially when I’m driving, which is both maddening and dangerous… foraging for a scrap of paper and pen, or phone with digital recorder. Usually, it’s titles or snippets of ideas that float through my head. When working on a book, the characters pop in unannounced, never a phone call or text message before they stop by. So, rude!
    Lauren recently posted….The Internet ADHD ExperimentMy Profile

    • Lauren – I know, scoundrels, the lot of them. In the past I didn’t make notes believing I would remember. Never did. Now, and assuming I’m not driving I make notes. If however, a great line pops in my noggin while driving, I will stop. Those one liners are fleeting.

  7. Brenda, I love hearing about your process. I hear stories all day long, each of them screaming to be told. They are real though, and not mine to share. Maybe I should go away from other people’s stories for a weekend and just write, write, write what is aching in my heart- left unwritten.

  8. Kat

    Sometimes I’ll get an idea from seeing people in real life, a flash of character or inspiration. More often my inspiration comes from a dream or a picture. I love scrolling through DeviantART and finding people, places, events that just leap out at me and say, “I am a gate to another place. Make that gate. Write my story.” Since I’m a slow writer, I may not get to them for a long time. But I do collect all the pictures and write down the dream-fragments for a rainy day.

    Thanks for sharing your experience!
    Kat recently posted….Influential Books: Part 4My Profile

    • Hi Kat! Hope you are doing well. Thanks for the recommend, Deviant Art. I often know the personality of a character, but not always what they look like (that’s the longer part of my process), I will look through magazines. Again, I enjoy learning of other’s processes. It’s like wondering how the mind of a lover or best friend processes, you know?

  9. Sure, happens all the time, everywhere (including the moment when a cockroach fell from the ceiling right on my head). I don’t write those ideas down, though. I develop them in my head when I grab the moment (or grab the moment from what I was supposed to do), and let them grow there. I write short stories, so I wait until the entire story is in my head, and that’s when I write.
    angel011 recently posted….There You Are, Green! Nice to See You!My Profile

    • Ivana – I do most of my figuring out, as it were, on the page. I come to the page with a view of what I think I am going to do but I never stick with it. I do enjoy hearing how others dance on the page, it’s a wonder to me.

  10. I would ask those questions, too! Writing fiction to me is like painting–where do artists get their ideas and how to you translate that into color? My sister is an artist and I bug her with questions like this all the time.

    Thanks for the peek into your writing process.
    Galen Pearl recently posted….Trillium ThrillsMy Profile

  11. Interesting . . . I haven’t had any characters jump out at me like that in a long time. Most of my story ideas have been “what ifs”–what if this happened, what would happen next. Or they’ve been studies of particular types of people, or rather, ways of thinking about the world–what would if be like to think about the world this way. They tend to be psychological–how does the mind cope with particular situations, events, like to learn one’s child or father was a mass murderer, or to have someone you love mysteriously disappear. In pondering what that would be like, characters arise.
    Deborah J. Brasket recently posted….“When Things Go Missing,” Piecing the Puzzle TogetherMy Profile

    • That’s why there are as many different stories as there are writers, Deborah. I am character driven writer and reader. I get the feel for character and the store trails in with her or him.

  12. What a fascinating way to explain how ideas can come from the most innocuous moments. Very clever, Brenda. When I was a little girl, my family and I were walking through Central Park and we came upon a man sitting on a park bench. At the time, we were big fans of the TV series, “Twilight Zone.” Well, lo and behold, the man on the park bench was Rod Serling, and one of the questions we asked him was, where did he get his ideas for Twilight Zone. You know what he said? Something I’ll never forget. He said, “From meeting people like you.”
    monicastangledweb recently posted….Lightning in a Jar: Love UnexpectedMy Profile

  13. Brenda, I always find it so interesting to see how the minds of writer’s work. I think that while we all have different experiences, we do share the predicament of having our train of thought interrupted by other ideas, new characters that are born while creating others. It’s almost surreal! I enjoyed reading about your particular process, my friend! :)

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