Where Do Stories Come From?

People want to know this. As hard as this traditionally is for writers to answer, I am going to try to demystify the process for you a bit.

Story ideas are triggered by random things. These triggers then trip the Writer’s Personal Vault of Interest. The WPVI is where the writer (often unconsciously) stores what is of particular interest to them—say, where their heart lies. One writer may have elephant migrations in Northern Africa in their WPVI, and another might have suburban dysfunction in the 1980’s tucked in there. Either way, they are themes the author returns to again and again. Often a writer will wrestle with these under different guises over the course of a lifetime, churning out a body of work that will reveal their WPVI in its idiosyncratic glory.

In my WPVI, I have psychology, odd gadgets, what the heck we’re doing on this planet, dystopian scenarios, imperfect and bumbling heroes, and my own entirely made-up theories on evolutionary neurology (far less on-point than the real thing, I’d wager.)

I must also add that for me everything begins and ends with a picture. I’d do a full series of pics here but that would get time-consuming. So I’m going to do one at the end of each scenario instead.

A typical story-idea-origination-process:

Me (looking out my window): Wow, look at the neighbors mowing their lawn. Lawnmowers…hmmm. Wonder if one day they will be as vintage as phone booths. And windows….hmmm. Wonder what it’ll be like to look out your window in 100 years. (Dog wanders into the room.) Wonder if we’ll have bred all the canine ferocity out of dogs by then and they’ll just be like doughy fluffy lumps. Wonder what would happen if someone secretly kept breeding Rottweilers in a world like that. A rogue dog-breeder. Or what if there was a whole society of underground people who refused to bend nature to our will like the rest of us weakened, atrophied humans, but that the rogue animal breeders sometimes had to sell a highly prized Original dog or cat to survive? And voila:


Me, looking at postcard from friend: Weird how Megan’s handwriting is evenly spaced, very controlled, and still pretty. Wonder if there’s any truth to graphology (is that even what it’s called?) Wonder what happened to us humans, from an evolutionary perspective, when we started to write? Wonder if in the future we’ll be able to tell far more about a person by their handwriting? What if there were two warring factions: people who want their children to learn to write because they believe the act of writing creates an emotional link to self-expression, and the Utilitarians, who purposely keep their kids from writing so they can be soul-less who minions who carry out evil deeds? And voila:


Me, driving in Austin: What if all of us drivers in Austin are in fact like roaches and survive the apocalypse, merely due to our buoyant obliviousness on the road? What if “ignorance is bliss” applies to us in this grand scale? What if, among the charred post-apocalyptic wreckage of our planet, we keep cruising around in our broken-down jalopies, smiling serenely? And voila:

So you see, you have a pretty good idea of what goes on in my WPVI. No matter what the trigger, it led me down to my vault, chock-full of thoughts of the future of the world, how people get along and what they prioritize, and so forth. The last of these about Austin drivers I suspect is something of a coping mechanism.

Anyway….that’s as minutely as I can break down the story-idea process, I’m afraid. Anything beyond that is nuclear fission.

I’m dying to know: what’s YOUR process? How do you come up with stories? What’s in YOUR WPVI?

2 Responses to Where Do Stories Come From?

  1. A wonderful post. It made me laugh. My WPVI? Apparently it includes a fascination with what motivates people to do self-destructive things, including suicide. It must also include death and resurrection, angry girls with short hair, scared boys, and bittersweet endings. Three books, and they all have all those things.

  2. salima says:

    That’s very interesting Ben!

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