Writing Tips at GarySpeer.com

Tips for writers and musing about writing and life

Novel excerpts revisited — where to find story ideas and where I found this one


I posted a couple of excerpts from a novel manuscript I was working on a couple of years ago. Mostly I was hoping to get some comments, reactions, criticism, or something useful for me.

That hasn’t happened yet, so let me use the content of those two posts to perhaps start some discussion on this topic: Where do you find story ideas? Do you find ideas from your personal life or family experiences? Do you get ideas watching or reading the news?

This particular story idea came about when I made a trip back to the small town where I grew up in southeastern Nebraska. It’s a place of about 1,700 people. The main “industry” in town is a chicken processing plant located beside a railroad track that runs through the town. I left there when I was not quite 10 years old and never got back until I was 22. My wife and I live about 375 files from the town and once every year or two we drive up there to visit my mother’s and grandparent’s graves.

On a trip back there a couple of years ago, we were in town during library hours so we went by the public library they’d built the year before. Pretty fancy operation for the town and the county. I struck up a conversation with the librarian, told her I’d lived there as a kid, and she took out a bound volume of the town’s weekly newspaper, which extended back to the early 1900s. Knowing I was a writer, the librarian told me some of her favorite newspaper stories and asked me if I’d ever heard about the mysterious murder that had happened in the early 1900s.

I was shocked. I had lived there from 1947-57 and never heard of any murder. I turned to the story, read it, and made a photocopy to take home and mull over. That event was the seed for this story idea. There actually was a man living outside town who had a well dug, then refused to let the well digger fill in the old well, insisting he wanted to do it himself. Two days later, the man left town. Several days after that, curious neighbors dug into the old well and discovered the bodies of his wife and young daughter.

Story ideas are everywhere. You just have to pay attention to what’s happening all around you. When something catches your interest, look carefully at it and ask yourself, “What if …” You’ve got a story idea. Now turn it into a best-selling novel and we’ll applaud your efforts.
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