Think Like a Writer

Hey Folks,

If you’re going to be a writer, it helps to think like a writer. Especially if you’re one of those who has trouble coming up with story ideas.

This morning, I was browsing a magazine article about the new SLS launch system that will someday land human beings on Mars. The particular rocket segment I was reading was about a mock-up, a life-sized, true-weight model.

So it wasn’t the actual rocket, and it wasn’t for an actual mission. The model itself will never leave Earth. Its only role is to enable the workers to practice raising it and maneuvering it into launch position.

That segment of the article was accompanied by a photo of the model, raised to about a 30-percent grade, and five or six people.

As I glanced at the photo, my mind immediately wandered.

I wondered whether one of the people pictured might be a spy and the ramifications of that. What glitch in his behavior might get him caught? And where would that lead? Would he ever see trial or kill himself in his cell? Why and how? Would his wife be complicit or shocked? Or would he not be caught at all? Would he go unnoticed and pass along intel that would enable an enemy to develop a rocket that would reach the continental US? What would his wife’s story be? How would his chidren be affected? What about their story as it relates to his actions?

And something about the pose of one of the men pictured caused me to wonder whether he’d argued with his wife that morning and the ramifications of that: Was he thinking about divorce? What would happen to his children? Was the argument about his or her infidelity or was it a more trivial matter?

Had the argument gone to extremes, causing the neighbors to call the police? Was he late to work as a result? Or was it a quiet argument but he killed her? Or tied her up and left her in a closet to deal with her later? Or was the story strictly localized?

Would his preoccupation and inattention cause a catastrophic accident? If so, how would that affect him? What’s the story from the viewpoint of the victim of the accident? Or from the POV of a relative of the victim? What if the victim was also related to the distracted man who caused the accident?

The way a woman peered at the model as it was being raised put other questions in my mind. What was going on in her mind? Was she suited up and seated in whatever capsule sat atop the model? Who would be in the crew with her if she could choose, and why? Did she imagine blasting off, the ensuing trip to Mars (or wherever)? And what would she find when she got there?

These and many, many more thoughts went through my mind in a matter of seconds as I looked at the photo and read that part of the article. And many more occurred as I viewed other photos and read other parts of the article.

And it dawned on me I was thinking like a writer. And I’ve been doing that for years.

If I glance out the window of my car and see hay bales in a field, don’t they look like tombstones? Or what’s the one particularly intriguing object that’s hidden beneath the third bale from the top of the fourth row from the right? Is it a nuclear secret? Is it an illicit love letter that an unfortuitous gust of wind blew out the window and into the field? Who will find it? How will that person react?

If I see horses running in a corral, which is dominant? Does he dream of being the king of his own herd out on the plains? And what if he is? How does he deal with a hungry wolf pack?

With everything you see or hear or smell or taste or read, the possibilities really are endless. The good news is, if you aren’t currently flooded with story ideas, this is something you can actually practice. And the more you exercise the idea muscle, the easier it becomes. And story ideas flood you all the time from every direction.

Make up story ideas about the folks you see in an airport, for example. Why does that guy drag his feet when he walks? Is his destination someplace he’d rather not go? Has he had a premonition? Is he leaving behind someone or something he regrets leaving behind?

And that woman in the smart business suit walking with confident strides but frowning slightly as she swallows. What does she do? Where is she going? Is she really confident or just trying to convey that she’s confident?

From now on, when anyone asks where I get story ideas, I’ll still say, “Literally everywhere.” But I think from now on i’ll also add, “Because I think like a writer.”

Hope this helps. ‘Til next time, happy writing!


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