This blog post drills down into something I use quite a bit to generate ideas for stories and books. I used this idea early on, well before I wrote my first short story or book, because I knew I would be writing someday. My efforts were not highly organized until I found a book to help me maximize this tool. That book is The Writer’s Notebook by Ralph Fletcher. This book helps you organize your notebook and use the information you record for various purposes.
Here are some of the important things I learned from this book that I currently use:
Capturing Unforgettable Stories
The idea behind this tips is to observe those things that move you. You might be at a wedding or watching something in nature or on the news. Those events that, after they occur, continue to stay in your mind hours after you experience them are worth recording. This doesn’t mean you should take out a notebook and start writing while you’re at a wedding or a funeral, but as soon as you are somewhere that allows you to do this without looking creepy, you should record as many details in your notebook as possible. If the event moved you, it may move your readers in the form of a story or book.
For me, I sometimes use pictures that I’ve taken to capture those moments and act as writing prompts later on. I live in Florida where there are some things in nature that are awe inspiring. Here are a couple of photos I snapped on my iPhone that were the inspiration for notes in my notebook that will likely turn into stories later on.
Key West Sunset Cruise – January, 2017 – Don Massenzio
St. Augustine/Matanzas Bay Sunset Cruise – May 2017 – Don Massenzio
Think of the Things That Haunt You
Do you have unanswered questions in your life? Maybe you want to achieve a goal that seems constantly out of reach. Maybe you wonder about the afterlife or some other great mystery of existence like is Elvis still alive. In your notebook, make a list of these things. These questions may haunt or interest your readers as well and they might make a great story.
Some examples from my own notebook include:
- How far would people go to attain a great talent or ability? – This became the short story, Play it again Des from by Random Tales short story collection. The story is about a small time boy with aspirations of being a great jazz piano player and the lengths he goes to in achieving this goal.
- What if you possessed a secret that would affect all of humanity in a negative way and no one would believe you? – I have started a short story on this idea, but it has not been completed yet.
- What if our idea of the afterlife was something totally unexpected? – This thought came to me as I was watching an older movie called Defending Your Life with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep where the main characters had died and had to use an attorney to defend their actions during their life to determine where their next step would be. It was a comedy, but definitely caused me to think about this topic and jot down some notes for a potential story/book.
Sweat the Details
Your notebook is the place to capture all of the details that you observe while you’re out and about. Maybe it’s a smell or a sound. Perhaps you see someone with unusual features or some other unique trait. These things can become part of the descriptive narrative in future writing. They might not turn into a full-blown story, but could add to the narrative that you create within a story.
I travel almost every week and I try to be extremely observant of details around me. One thing I’ve learned is that different airports have different smells as you emerge from the plane. Here are some of my observations on this topic.
- Denver Airport – The air is dry and has the faint odor of something musty with w mix of chemicals.
- Atlanta Airport – The humidity hits you like a wall when you enter the jetway. Each concourse has a different smell. Concourse B smells like fried chicken due to the location of Popeye’s in the middle of the concourse.
- Salt Lake City Airport – Cigarette smoke. The indoor smoking lounges allow smoke to escape into the main terminal each time the sliding door opens.
- Albuquerque Airport – Dryness. The moisture leaves your body as you struggle to walk out of the jetway in the high altitude. Even though you landed, you’re still about 5,800 feet above sea level. There is no detectable smell as your sinuses dry immediately in this atmosphere.
I’m going to continue this series on using a writer’s notebook. I’ve found it to be a useful tool and I hope you will as well.
Please let me know if you use some variation of this technique. I’d love to hear how you use it.