Home of the new YA novel, Alegría
4 Things to Write About
4 Things to Write About

4 Things to Write About

So you wanna write. You have a vision. Greatness, glory, good grades–galore. But for now, your vision for your story reads [blank]. What you need is inspiration to jackhammer through that writer’s block and chuck its pieces out the window—hopefully not hitting your neighbor in the process and getting charged for assault. Here are ten snazzy ideas to get your words flowing. 

1.  Change in Perspective

A tidy, organized kitchen.
If this is your kitchen, congratulations. You have a stock image–worthy kitchen.

If you’re in your bedroom, go to the kitchen. And if your bedroom is the kitchen, go outside. Wherever you are or wherever you go, try to shift your perspective. See things from an angle other than your own. Realize that your way of seeing the world is not the only way. Widen your view to include multiple centers of the universe and not simply yourself. The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche coined this concept as decentering

For example, let’s suppose you’re in this kitchen. Now pretend you’re the purple flowers. How do you experience the world? Do you want to escape the world of foliage and fauna just out reach? Do you resent being watered so irregularly? Are you dreading the day they decide you’re dead and ugly enough to throw out the window? Now consider your Meadow Oil fragrance sticks. Why would someone have them in their home? Why would someone place them on the top shelf above their mortar and pestle? Were the fragrance sticks a gift? What memories do they carry? What do they reveal about the homeowner? Then imagine you’re five years old. How does the room change? Is that oven looming? Are those cabinets a good place for hide-and-seek? What’s out of reach and what’s within reach that wasn’t before? Try the perspective of 15, 47, or 112.

Once you’ve uncovered multiple perspectives from your surroundings, combine and revise them to create a story. You are naturally good at this and the way the puzzle pieces of perspective fit together will make sense to you. 

Example story:  An 80-year old man spends his days cleaning and reorganizing the kitchen in hopes of keeping alive and happy his purple hydrangeas, which hold the spirit of his late wife. When the hydrangeas start slowly dying with no identifiable reason, the man turns to desperate measures. 

2.  Create a Character

In dress-up game fashion, choose your avatar. Start with character traits. Honest, stubborn, dumb as a doornail. Follow with their appearance. Choose a hairstyle, a body type, an outfit, a face shape, a nose shape, an eye color, etc. Third, give your character a job, a home, some hobbies, a few family members and friends. Or don’t. (You can make your character as miserable as you want.) Finally, invent a background for your character. What life events made him stubborn? Was he always as dumb as a doornail? Likewise, make up a future for him. Where is your character going? What are his goals, his dreams, his fears, his deepest, darkest desires? 

[caption:  What Bob could’ve been like in his youth.]
Boy with watering can
What Bob could’ve been like in his youth.

There is no set pattern to creating a character. You can start with physical traits, then move on to hobby and personality traits, or vice versa. Just keep in mind this advice from George Singleton:  don’t make any character’s physical trait too distracting. Don’t add a foot-long nose to your character unless it’s what grants her an award-winning sense of smell, secured her a job at Bath & Body Works, and traumatized her as a dateless youth—or is otherwise relevant to her story. 

Once your character has been fully developed, it’s time to map your character onto a plot structure. Create an exposition from his background. Create a climax from his goals. Determine his fate. Will he achieve them? If not, why? Is he unable to overcome his fatal flaw? Through the actions you plot, your character will come to life. He’ll peel off the page just like the gingerbread man from his pan. 

Example story:  Bob, a miserable munchkin of a man leaves the job he’s had for 30 years in pursuit of the famed Dr. Oz, a fitness guru with his own TV show and a growth serum he claims is capable of increasing height by five feet! Along the way, Bob’s special size and talents for aerial yoga redeem him from tricky situations, making him realize there’s no one else he’d rather be. 

Create a Character
Appearance, Personality, Hobbies, Work, & Social Life + Background, goals, fears, desires --> Plot your character

3.  Write What You Know (Truth)

What to write about. A boy with a question mark over his head stands in front of a yellow background.
A questioning child.

Reflect on what life has taught you. Write down a list of truths you find to be unchanging. For instance, God exists. Hearing and being heard matter. Everybody makes mistakes (everybody has those days.) From whatever you’ve found to be true, pick one statement. 

Dive deeper into your truth by imagining an inquiring kid about the size of your average trash can. When you state your truth, this kid will say in a nasally voice, “Why?” Explain. And explain his follow-up questions until all you want to do is drop-kick him on the playground rubber mulch. 

Once you’ve gone as deep into the truth as you can, find a way to share this truth through your writing, giving yourself the constraint of “show, don’t tell.” In other words, how would you explain this truth to someone through a story? Having reflected on the experiences that led you to such knowledge, you should have sufficient ideas to get you started. If you’re looking for more, plenty of people post what they believe and why they believe it online. Take the time to learn from them. You might find others’ stories resonate with yours and stumble onto the golden nugget of an universal theme.

See if you can gather the truth the following example is based on. 

Example story:  An up-and-coming violinist drowns her tears in espresso at the local coffee shop after a poor performance at Carnegie Hall. While there, a happy-go-lucky videographer spills his coffee on her, initiating a battle of the wills that has her wondering if perfect is really so perfect after all.

Write What You Know
List Truths + Understand Why True --> Show, Don't Tell

4.  Face Your Fear. Or Create One.

Dark Glasses
Dark glasses. See into others’ intentions.

The world can be a twisted and terrifying place. Make a list of fears. Maybe you’re scared of clowns, dolphins, or body-snatchers. Maybe you’re scared of losing somebody. Maybe you’re scared of losing yourself. Whatever your fear, introspectively figure out why it frightens you. 

After exploring your fear comes the fun part:  overcoming it. Craft a scenario which will humanize your fear. What would make a clown compassionate? What does the world look like through a sympathetic body-snatcher’s eyes? If your fear isn’t something humanizable, figure out a way to cope with your fear. What would give you hope after losing someone? What’s the upside of losing yourself? 

Conversely, take something innocent and ordinary like a clock, a fan, or a gravitational law, and explore in what scenario it would be scary. 

Either of these scenarios will make the basis of a great story because you’ll be taking a common perspective and flipping it. You’ll be helping the reader see things in a new way. And the contrast you create between your fear and its remedy is not just compelling, it’s what gives things meaning

Example story:  After inventing darkglasses, a device that allows him to see others’ intentions at night, a man becomes the neighborhood superhero. But when a violent gang targets his son, will he be able to keep him safe during the day?

Face Your Fear
List Fears + Humanize Fear, Cope with Fear -> Develop Story From Contrast

Now that your writer’s block is gone and the ideas are flowing, don’t forget to put pen to paper or type to screen and get started on your story. And share your story or story idea with me in the comments! Happy writing.