Everyone likes stories. Stories are how we communicate. But, the best stories are the stories that are close to home – stories from everyday life.
Storytelling is important not only for fiction writers but the non-fiction writers too. What makes non-fiction interesting to read is the stories.
One way to practice storytelling is to write short stories based on what happens around us. There is a story in practically everything. You need to develop a knack to pick them up.
Getting good at writing short stories can set you up for success in other writing ventures as well.
Even if your end goal is to write a novel, you should learn how to craft solid, captivating short stories.
If you think writing short stories is easier because they are short, you are mistaken.
Writing short stories is hard.
The truth is to tell a story in a limited number of words takes more skill than writing a full-length novel or a nonfiction book.
And writing short stories from your life is even harder. Mainly because you are too close to the incident. But stories from your life are more impactful and insightful. They relate better.
There is an art to writing amazing stories. I am going to write a three article series on how to write stories from everyday life.
Today’s article is the first one of the series where I will suggest how to pick ideas for stories.
There are three ways you can pick stories from around you.
Be on the lookout for something unusual.
Out-of-ordinary things are happening around us all the time.
A next-door neighbor whom you know like the kind and docile man turns out to be a crossdresser.
A couple you know as an ideal couple divorced after twenty years of marriage.
The well-dressed old lady at the end of the street is a shoplifter.
We see and hear about these things all the time, but instead of making a note of them, we dismiss them.
If you take a moment and start thinking about them, each one has the potential to become a story.
Take the crossdresser man, for instance. How did you find out he was a crossdresser? Was he embarrassed? How often would he have felt that embarrassment? What does his family think about him? How made him a crossdresser? What would his world be like? What he really wants in his ideal world? Of course, you don’t know the answer to all these questions, but that is exactly the place to develop your fiction writing skills.
A non-fiction writer will try to find the fact and write the story from the factual aspect; a fiction writer will fill the details from her imagination.
Another source to pick unusual events or things in the newspapers, TV, magazines, or even other fictional stories. Start collecting them as you come across them. For example, a young man jumping from the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a story. Two drunken young women arrested for revealing themselves also is a story.
Keep the cuttings in a folder, and let them rest there for a while. Then, when you take them out months later, you will be able to see them with fresh eyes and weave a story around them.
Add something unusual to every day happening.
Not all daily happenings are out of the ordinary. But they still can be turned into a story with a bit of imagination.
Three friends driving out of town to a winery for lunch is hardly an out-of-the-ordinary event. But with some imagination, you can add something unexpected to it.
They can meet an accident where just the driver survives, and the other two are killed. The driver holds herself responsible for their deaths because he knew it was his fault.
They can meet an extraordinary woman in the winery whom all three want to be friends with, so they toss a coin.
The winery could be closed due to renovation, but they decide to poke around and find a stock of bottles. Seeing no one around, they decide to steal a few boxes.
Imaginary stories have been used in non-fiction writing too. They can become hypothetical scenarios.
Write it as it is but give it an insight.
Some events are complete stories in themselves because they hold meaning in them. You don’t need to do much with them other than highlight that insight.
Have a look at the story below:
One afternoon, Martha Sweeny, was in a coin laundry outside her hometown of stonewall Texas, when half a dozen young motorcyclists suddenly roared up to the gas station next door.
They were all a boisterous, rough-looking lot, and one of them — younger than the other, no more than seventeen — was the loudest and roughest-acting of the bunch.
With several of his friends, the boy entered the laundry, and then something happened when he looked around this small, rural town laundry and, especially when he notices this older woman observing him.
In one of those revealing moments we’ve all lived through, Martha made eye contact with the boy and saw him hesitate.
Later after his friends had gassed up their cycles, he told them his starter was on the blink to go on without him. He said he’d catch up.
After the others went roaring off, the boy brought some dirty clothes into the laundry. “His shoulders sagged as if he were terribly weary.
Dust and grease and sweat-stained his shirt and jeans. A beginning beard faintly shadowed his chin and lean cheeks. He turned, briefly, our eyes met again. Emotions flickered across his face. Doubt, longing, pain?”
Moments later he ran his clothes through the washer and dryer, then disappeared into the men’s room.
When he emerged ten minutes later, he was wearing clean pants and shirt and he had shaved his scraggly beard scrubbed his hands and face and even combed his hair.
He now grinned in Martha’s direction and jumping on his motorcycle, zoomed away.
Not following the others, but going back the way he’d come. Back towards home.
I read this story in a Reader’s Digest years ago (unfortunately, I didn’t note the writer’s details). Every time I read, it gives me a lump in the throat. And that is the point of the stories — to evoke emotions.
The insight here is highlighted by a single line ‘He now grinned in Martha’s direction and jumping on his motorcycle, zoomed away.’ It gives you hope that a single moment can change the course of your life.
I wrote them six to seven years ago and haven’t done much with them since. I am trying to get back into fiction writing, and this is my way of revising what I learned about story writing years ago.
In the next article, I will explore how to develop stories once you have collected some ideas.