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  • Writer's pictureDouglas Sharp

Finding the Story Within You

One of the most frequent questions authors get is how do you come up with these ideas?  In some ways, this is a very hard question to answer.  Most of my story ideas don’t come for me sitting down and saying to myself, I want to write a story.  They come during my everyday life: while I’m working, while I’m traveling, while I’m with my family.  Imagination is like a muscle, the more if you use it, the easier it is to use and the stronger it becomes.  My imagination has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember and I fed and nourished it.  I decided that I wanted to write in high school but, at that time, I was very insecure and didn’t think anybody would care for my stories.  It took years before I got up the courage to actually start writing, but during those years my imagination never stopped creating stories.

Like any other muscle, the imagination can be exercised even if it has been rarely used before.  When considering where my stories come from, I have to answer that they come from within me, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have outside influences.  I can look at my stories and see the effects of the stories I’ve read throughout the years.  Sometimes my writing style is similar to my favorite authors.  Every writer you read has his favorite authors that will have influenced his style and melded within him to create a unique style.  All this comes together to create the story and every story starts with an idea.

The ideas I get come from what I call a catalyst.  The stories come from within me but something has to spark the beginnings of that story.  This catalyst can be anything.  My first book series, the Soul Link Chronicles, came from a picture that popped into my head.  I wasn’t thinking of making a new story but when the image of a man holding a gun to his head came into my mind, my imagination took hold of it and it asked an important question; why?  Why was he holding the gun to his head?  The answer was that his wife died.  Now, I didn’t want him to kill himself, so I thought how can I stop him?  What if he sees something that shouldn’t exist?  I liked this idea and then decided that he would see an imp appear in front of him.  This made him hesitate.

The next question is why was the imp there?  It came to warn him that an assassin was being sent by the elves.  This was the beginning of the Soul Link Chronicles.  Now, if you have to read the Soul Link Chronicles, none of this will seem familiar.  Over the course of developing this story, I lowered the age of one of my protagonists, change the gender of my protagonists, and took out the elves and imp, creating my own races to inhabit my story.  The important thing here was the catalyst.  An image in my head sparked a three book series.

Let me give you another example.  I’ve started writing a new SCI Fi series with my friend, Brandon Pack.  This book series is from an idea I had many years ago.  I was reading about Moon landing conspiracy theories.  The article I was reading was about how many people believe that the Moon landings were staged and filmed in Hollywood.  At the end of this article, it mentioned that there are people who believe the Moon landings happened but we don’t know what Neil Armstrong really found on the Moon.  This got my mind churning.  What if something was found on the Moon?  Say, they found an alien spaceship.  Now, some of you may say, this sounds like that transformers movie.  I had the idea before that movie came out and was a little annoyed when it did come out.  It didn’t mean that I couldn’t use the idea but some people would think I got it from them.  Ignoring that for now, the next question was why was this spaceship on the Moon?  The aliens wanted to warn us.  Reading the article was the catalyst that has led to a book being written.  I’ve made several memos to the president about this subject that has to do with the history of the story.  Once again, I wasn’t looking for a story to write when I read that article but my mind was prepared and it told me this story.  There are catalysts all around us and, if we have prepared our minds and imaginations, everything has a story to tell us.

Let’s look at a popular book series, The Hunger Games.  Doing a little research, I found that Suzanne Collins came up with the idea for The Hunger Games on a night where she was flipping channels between a reality show and the Iraq war.  She stated that she was tired and the two kind of mixed in her mind in an odd way and from that catalyst came The Hunger Games.  I don’t know what questions she asked to lead to the book series, but she wasn’t trying to think of a story that night.  This is the reason why many writers carry notebooks with them.  When a story idea pops into your head you need to write it down as soon as you can.  Sometimes the ideas stick around but many will just disappear after you haven’t thought about them for a while.  There’s nothing more frustrating than having a good story idea and not being able to remember it.  I personally just use the note program on my phone.  Most phones come with one installed but, if your phone doesn’t have one, you can download an app.

Going back to what I said about having a similar idea to someone else.  Transformers did a movie about finding a ship on the other side of the Moon.  My SCI Fi story started at a similar place.  Just because you have a similar idea doesn’t mean you can’t use it.  Looking at The Hunger Games again, you find that there are many that have taken the reality gladiatorial games idea and made a story.  The best example I can think of is The Running Man.  This movie was loosely based off of the novel by Stephen King.  This is a different take about a reality show where people were being hunted down and killed.  The two stories have similar concepts but went different ways.  Just because you have an idea similar to someone else does not mean you’re going write the same story.

Let’s say that we take the idea of our reality war show and do something with it.  What if we set it during modern times?  What if war was changed to reality TV and every country that wanted something from another country would send Special Forces into an arena where everybody could watch them fight?  Whichever Special Forces team survived would win their country territory or resources or tribute.  We could base a story on that.

What happens when we put it in a Sci Fi setting?  Say there was a planet where all the criminals in the galaxy were sent. The resources needed to survive are so scarce that everyone is fighting.  This planet is monitored and broadcast to the rest of the galaxy.  Don’t be discouraged if an idea you come up with is similar to another book.  All you need to do is make it your own.  You obviously don’t want to plagiarize or copy another story but you can have your own take on an idea and have two unique books.  We all have things that influence us and which we draw inspiration from.  It is commonly accepted that all of fantasy has been inspired by The Lord of the Rings.  This does not diminish the great books that have been written in fantasy.  Sometimes we just need a boost to get to the next great story idea.

The answer to the question, ‘where do these ideas come from?’ is that they come from everywhere.  What I have inside of me is inspired by what is around me.  The stories in my imagination are roused by everyday life.  We all have stories within us and we will find them by living life.  Sometimes stories take time to find their voice.  As we allow our minds to tell us the stories, we will find that they find their voice faster and faster.  Allow your imagination to roam and you’ll find that it will tell you great things.  You’ll be able to find that story you’ve been searching for.

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