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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Filling Your Well of Ideas

By Michael Ehret

Sometimes I think my idea well has run dry. The plots I dredge up are so spare they couldn’t even flesh out a flash fiction story.

What's in your Well of Ideas?
Image courtesy of and cbenjasuwan
Can you relate?

Usually what this means is I need to switch from “creative” mode to “ingestion” mode—I need more raw material to draw from. Some writers can create a story idea from nothing except their own imagination.

That is not me. And if that’s not you, too, maybe this trick will help you fill your well.

Feed Me, Seymour!

Much like the carnivorous plant in “The Little Shop of Horrors,” I need constant feeding. Often I chow down on a great novel; less frequently nonfiction fills my gullet.

Maybe it’s my background as a newspaper reporter, but some of the best food for my imagination comes from the news—including quasi news sources like blogs. Because, as Mark Twain said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

When I read news, online or print (broadcast doesn’t work for me), invariably I read an article that sparks an idea or two. Now, I freely admit not all of them will produce even a flash fiction piece, let alone a full-blown novel, but the important thing is I’m filling my imagination. At the appropriate time, several of the ideas will likely congeal together and produce something workable.

But I can guarantee that nothing workable will be produced if raw material isn’t imported into the processor.

Is he talking about you?

What are the costs of living together?
Image courtesy of and Ambro
For instance, I read this commentary from Regis Nicoll the other day called “The High Costs of Living Together.” It included this gem:

In 1969, although the vast majority of people, 82 percent, reported having had sex before marriage by age 30, only 21 percent felt that was morally acceptable.

… Over the next 40 years, as public acceptance grew three-fold (to 63 percent) and (more) people (94 percent) admitted to having “done it,” there was far less social pressure to restrain it or keep quiet about it.

This sea change in attitudes and practices can be attributed to two things: “no-consequence” sex and a morally-compromised Church.

… With roughly 80 percent of the U.S. populace Christian and 94 percent admitting to pre-marital sex, that means that a lot of Christians—very likely the majority—are guilty of sexual sin.

Woah … right? I know a lot of people who will take offense at a study like this. But that’s what makes great fiction!

Is that giving you ideas? (Story ideas, guys, story ideas.) It sure did me. My oeuvre, the framework within which I write, includes marriage, fidelity, trust—and all the antonyms of those, of course. I took the entirety of Nicoll’s piece and fed my imagination with it. Who knows where it may lead, but now that information has been uploaded and is available. (And also stored electronically.)

Fill your well

The point is there are ideas for fiction everywhere if you open your eyes, your heart, and your mind to them. If you read something that sticks with you—good or bad—file that away in your Well of Ideas. Maybe you’ll use it, maybe you won’t. But you for sure won’t use it if you don’t have it stored away.

Obviously our world is ever in need of the transformative power of story—and of Story. What ideas have you picked up from news sources and used in your stories?

Want to play?

Screenshot from Jan. 25 home page
Go to the front page of your local paper (or to the home page of CNN or Fox News or your favorite online news source) and read the main story—no cherry picking. Choose one fact or one quote or one idea from that story as your idea seed and freewrite a paragraph or two in the comments.

Here’s my example. I wrote this on Jan. 25 based on this story, but the story has changed since that day and my idea seed is no longer in it.

My idea seed from that story: The scene was “believed to be secure” police said in a tweet issued at about 12:36 p.m.

Ethan was dead. True. He’d been an effective triggerman. Also true. But there were others. Many others.

Captain White’s tweet that the mall was “secure” made Gaston—almost—laugh out loud, but he did not "LOL." When he laughed, and it was rare, it was real not some fake social construct. But that “out loud” part was a luxury he couldn’t allow himself right now. Later? Most definitely.

Stupid twerkers. Ethan got a few, but they’d be back prancing through the mall in their tight clothes and loose morals soon enough. It was “secure,” after all. White said so. Truth. 

So not true.
And then he did chuckle—but quietly. After all, the shoppers trapped in his store from the lockdown were still shook up and hyper aware—no sense in giving them something odd to remember if the police did questioned them.

They’d soon enough embrace again the fragile cloak of security they thought protected them. True, always true.

So, if you want to play leave a comment. Or, if you want to talk about where you get your ideas fromhow you fill your Well of Ideasleave a comment.

Michael Ehret loves to play with words as a Marketing Communications Writer for CHEFS Catalog and as a freelance editor at Ehret is the former editor of the ACFW Journal and has edited several nonfiction books, proofedited for Abingdon Press, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.


  1. Good post, Mike. It just so happens I had jury duty this week. At first I was disappointed that it wasn't a criminal case. It was "just" a child protection case. But the things I heard in that courtroom I could never make up. We live such sheltered lives. Jesus got down in the mud with the sinners. There's no reason we can't as well if it will help our stories reach a fallen world. By the way, go to some of the conspiracy websites, too. Like Alex Jones. Great story ideas there as well.

    1. Thanks, Ron! I used some of what I experience in jury duty (spousal abuse case) for a story I was working on once. Everything is a source.

  2. As I read this, MSB is watching the Military Channel, "Top Secret Weapons Revealed," where they're discussing WWII scientists' experimentation with the possibility of attaching incendiary devices on bats. *Bats.* Reckon you could get a story idea from that?

    1. Hmmm...maybe a Amish vampire from out space? Oh, wait, that's been done.

  3. I peruse the newspaper but end up finding things for my friends who write suspense. Since I write women's fiction, I rarely find one. However, a gem did present itself once. The last widow of a confederate soldier died a couple of years ago, and her story was in the newspaper. It was quite an interesting one, too. She'd married a much older man to provide a home for her child. He was a veteran of the "war of northern aggression." Hey, I'm a Southerner, and this is my comment. As I was saying, it raised some good possibilities for a great story and resides in my idea file.

    But I get most of my ideas from observing people and listening to their conversations. Yes, I'm a self-confessed eavesdropper. So be nice to me. I'm saving plenty on you, Mike. Cue evil laughter.

  4. Thanks, Mike, you made me look up a new word. (oeuvre). And here's my paragraph, based on today's sad top story. I apologize in advance for the morbidity.

    I Googled how long it would take to freeze to death and how painful it might be. Wouldn't be that difficult, I reasoned. Wait 'til I'm good and tired. Maybe swallow a little alcohol first, maybe a lot. Wait 'til the household is asleep and slip out the back door. Find a spot in the back yard, lie down, and fall asleep. Nobody would be looking for me until morning, and I'd be sure to be long gone by then. Maybe I'd try it tonight.
    Then I stepped out the door to go to work. The cold air on my fingers as I fumbled with car keys told me instantly I didn't have the guts. Pain. I just don't do pain.
    Which leads me back to my original question. Must find a better way to escape the pain of living.

    1. Terrie, this is morbid but it suggests a great character with a fascinating journey to go on. Well done.


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