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Finding Story Ideas From Real Life

Updated on September 16, 2013

How Do You Keep Generating Ideas for Stories

Slam your head up against that writer’s block. How does it feel? Are you a little bruised and bloody from the impact? Don’t you get a little tired of the pain involved with bashing your head like that?

I can say in all honesty that in the past two years of writing full-time I have never had writer’s block, and I write every single day.

What are you, bionic? Where do you keep coming up with ideas for your stories?

Well, my short answer for those questions goes like this…..I am alive, and as long as I am alive, ideas are everywhere. All I have to do is pay attention and be receptive.

I was told by a teacher once that all I had to do to get story ideas was keep my eyes open and look around. Now that may sound incredibly easy but in truth it is not. Most people are busy doing other things. They are busy with the business of living. Their normal daily routines keep them quite pre-occupied and they really don’t notice much of what is going on around them, and if they do notice it, it’s in a familiar fashion.

Let me give you an example. I am notorious among my friends for not noticing who is driving in a car coming the opposite way on a two-way street. I have had countless friends tell me that they wave at me when we pass each other but I never wave back, and on some occasions I have hurt their feelings by not noticing. Believe me, it’s not intentional, but rather a focus on what is in front of me to the exclusion of everything around me.

Writers need to be aware of life around them. Writers need to see the new in the familiar and witness events like it is the first time they have ever seen them. In other words, writers need to be a bit more like little children so they can see the wonder in the mundane. If little kids were capable of writing short stories, they would never run out of ideas, simply because everything is new to them and everything is exciting.

What follows are several suggestions to help you find story ideas. They have worked for me and they will work for you if you are willing to see life for the very first time.

Your experiences are stories waiting to happen
Your experiences are stories waiting to happen | Source
My family has inspired many an article and story
My family has inspired many an article and story | Source

Where do you get your ideas for stories and articles?

See results


I was listening the other day to John Lennon’s song “Imagine” and within two hours I had written an article called “The Other Side of War.” It was just that simple.

Music is a wonderful medium for generating ideas because we all associate certain events in our lives with a particular song. Think about it and you will see the truth in that statement. I was listening to an Oldies station yesterday and the song “Color My World” by Chicago came on, and that song was played at my wedding back in 1978, and that led to an article about love. It could have easily led to an article about divorce, or a short story about a failed marriage that nonetheless resulted in the adoption of a special child, or a hundred other ideas. The catalyst was the song; the materials used to construct the story came from my life.

And that leads to my next suggestion, which is…..


“But I can’t write about my real life. My life is boring.”

Well no, it isn’t. You are just so used to living it that it seems mundane and not worth writing about.

I have written numerous articles based on some words of wisdom spoken to me by my father. Mind you, there was nothing newsworthy about my dad. He was a hard-working laborer who lived hard and died young, but he had a strong grasp of what is important in life, and an uncanny ability to state it in words that made an impression on me. Based on the responses I have gotten, he made quite an impression on my readers as well.

Now, I could have gone several directions using the words of my father. I could do what I actually did, and write a philosophical article about life based on his words. I could have written a fictional short story based on the situation that prompted his words.

The whole point is that I took a very normal situation from my life, my father talking to me, and managed to find 1,500 words describing it. One thing I know with certainty is that we all have numerous commonalities. What was meaningful to me will be meaningful to thousands of readers because there are certain universal truths that we all recognize.


Say you want to write a story about family vacations and you are looking for ideas. Well, you could write a story based on one particular family vacation you went on, or you could remember ten family vacations and combine them into one story, using parts of one and parts of another, so that your story really is a compilation of several stories.

In other words, turn your real life into fiction.

For a fiction writer, flexibility is crucial. If you are unwilling to change events in a story because they “really happened,” then you might want to stay away from fiction. Thank the gods there is no rule against doing this or most of the major works in Literature would not exist.


Again, remember that we all share commonalities. What is a tragedy to me will most likely elicit emotions from my readers because they can associate with emotional trauma.

Take an unsettling story from your own life; change the names and write a short story about it or again, take several tragic stories from your life and make them into one short story.

Emotions are a powerful tool for a writer. To ignore them is to ignore a very basic component of writing. As my friend Anais Nin says:

If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don't write, because our culture has no use for it.

Unlimited possibilities for stories
Unlimited possibilities for stories | Source
Think of the jobs you have had
Think of the jobs you have had | Source


Unless you grew up in an orphanage, without a doubt you have family stories that can be made into a fictional tale. My Uncle Les from Missouri was a great storyteller and you better believe I have used him during my writing travels.

I took it a step further and moved outside of family when I wrote a short story called “Sam’s Legacy.” Our next door neighbors, when I was growing up, were an old couple who came to Washington in a covered wagon over the Oregon Trail. Their tales of that journey were used to form the backdrop of that short story, and their recollections have found their way in several other articles I have written about the Oregon Trail.


I worked for two weeks one summer shoveling coal into a blast furnace in the hull of a tanker ship. That experience hasn’t made it into a story yet but it will because it was the worst job I have ever had; hence the two week job duration.

Even if I never write a story about shoveling coal, I can write a story where one of my characters has that particular job, and another character can work in a convenience store, and another can be a teacher and on and on, because those are all jobs I have had and I can write from experience.


How could anyone be short of ideas with the daily news bombarding us with stuff that is stranger than fiction? I’m serious. I have three words for you….Honey Boo Boo! I could write 5,000 words using that family alone as the backdrop…..and if you are being honest you will admit that you have someone in your extended family who is almost as strange. LOL

Politicians can feed my writer’s soul for weeks all by themselves. The state of the economy, child trafficking, kidnapping, serial killers, corrupt corporations, greedy CEO’s….my God, it is endless…and if you don’t want to write specifically about a current affair, then use it as an example in a short story or book.


I am falling. It is dark, but there is enough ambient light for me to see the walls that surround me and to have a sense of rapid descent. The dream comes to me almost nightly, and I wake up before I hit the bottom, covered in sweat and shaking like a 4th Avenue hooker on crank.

That dream came to me for a good two years after my father died when I was twenty. I have a short story/possible book sitting in the wings and it is titled “Reflections From A Black Hole.”

I rarely dream. For those of you who do dream on a regular basis, you have a veritable bonanza at your disposal. Put a notepad by your bed and when you wake up in the morning fresh from a dream, write it down before you forget it. You just might be able to use it later.

Great ideas in this video

Enough for Now

Take everything I just told you and boil it down to this: real life is waiting for any writer. We do not have enough time in our lifetimes to write about all the ideas that are out there waiting for us to notice them. All that is required is for us to be observant. All that is required is for us to see life through the eyes of a child.

Embrace the wonder of it all and start writing.

2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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