Seekerville: The Journey Continues | category: story ideas


Seekerville: The Journey Continues

Sparking Ideas

Sparking Ideas

by Mindy Obenhaus 

People often ask me where I find ideas for my stories. And while I wish I could say something like, "Well, there's this secret book and it has all these great ideas," I usually just shrug my shoulders and say, "Everywhere."

The truth is, we never know what will spark a story idea. It can be an event, a personal experience, genealogy research, even a place. My very first book began forming in my mind as I roamed the mountains around the small town of Ouray, Colorado. 

An integral part of any story idea is asking, "What if?" You hear/see/read something and the next thing you know, your mind has latched onto a tiny morsel of information and is already running with it. Sometimes it hits a brick wall, other times you find yourself with the makings of a really good story.

Here are a few places you can find story ideas:

  • The News - Yes, these days watching the news can be torture, but occasionally there will be a nugget buried somewhere in a story that has you asking, "What if?" Human interest stories can really spark things. I saw something on a local news station not long ago that triggered an idea.
  • Research - Sometimes research for one story can lead to an idea for another.
  • Other books or movies - No, I'm not talking about plagiarizing, I'm saying put a spin on them. Have you ever watched a movie or read a book and thought to yourself, "What if this had happened instead?" You know, there are only so many tropes out there. The key is to flip them around and look at them from every angle and come up with a different approach and a whole new story. 
  • Divine Intervention - Ever have one of those moments where a story idea just pops into your head while you're doing something mundane like washing dishes or folding laundry. No matter how crazy the idea might be, write it down, because you just never know. While you may think it's nothing that would lead to something, it could be that God's only giving you what you need at that very moment. If He formed the universe out of nothing, He can certainly get the ball rolling on a story by giving you one tiny glimpse.
The key to finding story ideas is to never discount anything. Even if you have a nugget of something and can't figure out what to do with it, don't cast it aside. Save it, because you never know when you might come across another idea to pair it with. I know this, because the story I'm currently working on is one that first blipped on my mental radar back in 2005. It's been sitting in reserve all these years and has now taken on a totally different incarnation.

Now it's your turn. Writers, where are some odd places you've come up with story ideas? Readers, what do you think when you read a story that's put a spin on a classic trope? I've got a copy of A Soldier's Homecoming, an upcoming a 2-in-1 with my 2016 release, Falling for the Hometown Hero and Renee Ryan's 2010 release, Homecoming Hero for one lucky commenter (US only, please).
Sparking Ideas

Sparking Ideas

Award-winning author Mindy Obenhaus is passionate about touching readers with Biblical truths in an entertaining, and sometimes adventurous, manner. She lives on a ranch in Texas with her husband, two sassy pups, countless cattle, deer and the occasional coyote, mountain lion or snake. When she's not writing, she enjoys spending time with her grandchildren, cooking and watching copious amounts of the Hallmark Channel. Learn more at

Guest Blogger Delores Topliff - Free Story Ideas: Free for the Taking plus Book Giveaway

 Erica here: It is my pleasure to host Delores Topliff today on the blog. Delores and I, beyond being writers, have another connection. Years ago, when my daughter was in high school, she took college classes through University of Northwestern, St. Paul, and Delores was one of her professors!

Welcome, Delores!

Hello everyone. I’m Delores Topliff happy to post on Seekerville today. I appreciate how this site nurtures and inspires writers. Plus, its archives are wonderful!

Before 2021, I had four children’s books published along with many true testimony stories in inspirational compilation books. But gradually the stories in my head grew into fun novels that demanded telling. My first, Books Afloat, published last January, is based on a Japanese submarine that really did enter the Columbia River in mid-June1942 and the fictional idealist young woman on a floating houseboat library taking books to river residents who works with undercover volunteers to stop that invasion. Books Afloat’s publication has given me fresh appreciation for readers and those who review our books. I’m offering an e-book copy of this book in the continental US only to those who comment on this blog. And I’ll appreciate it lots if you post a review on Amazon after reading the book.


I’m picking up writing speed now. Christmas Tree Wars, releasing October 5th, involves two feuding Wisconsin Christmas tree farmers in 1966, one Norwegian and one Swedish. Their son and niece both come home to boost farm finances and compete to grow the White House tree chosen to be decorated by First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson. Their farm rescue and growing romance helps the feuding farmers and town rediscover the reason for the season. There are even Norwegian and Swedish Christmas recipes at the end of the book, just in time for your Christmas baking.

Today lets focus on where story ideas come from. The easy answer is ANYWHERE! Hang on tight to all sparking story ideas. There’s never an inconvenient time for them reach your brain. Like babies, they choose when and where they wish to be born. Moms seldom dictate those dates. My purse holds a notepad and pen for story ideas, but they often gets overlooked. Instead, key ideas often get jotted on the backs of envelopes or even utility bills. These days, I often pick up my ever-present iPhone and dictate enough notes or short text to capture the idea.

While writing a number of stories or poems, I can tell you exact places and times when ideas came. If I paid attention and tuned in, they were mine to keep and watch them grow. If I didn’t, they waved goodbye and visited the next appreciative person who would give them the time and space they needed.

For example, Christmas Tree Wars was born one Sunday morning when I drove along Minnesota farm roads going to church when I took a different road and spotted something interesting. A row of tall, uniformly evergreen trees stood along one side of the road. On the other, one single mid-sized evergreen tree stood by its lonesome self bordering the edge of a hayfield. Instantly the Lord gave me the basic story idea and arc. The owner of the row of trees was to provide a stately evergreen to a public figure. Instead of sacrificing one from his own row, he cut and presented the one belonging to his neighbor, kind of like the O.T. prophet Nathan comes to King David talking about someone stealing someone’s beloved ewe sheep. Of course some details change as stories develop but I’m happy to remember how the story kernel dropped into my heart on that exact stretch of road. I wish it was always that easy, but it helps when we welcome inspiration and tune in.

Guest Blogger Delores Topliff - Free Story Ideas: Free for the Taking plus Book Giveaway


One of my best poems arrived between our automatic washer’s rinse and spin cycle as I bent over the appliance with a scrap of paper and pencil.

Wilderness Wife, releasing next February, came from appreciating all I’d heard about Dr. John McLoughlin, founder of Fort Vancouver in my home town at the end of the Oregon Trail. Most of us know a fair bit about this famous man. One day I wondered what his wife, Marguerite Wadin MacKay McLoughlin was like and found a gold mine that totally inspires me. For me, an occupational hazard when writing historicals is that so much to inspire, it’s hard to weed out and decide which key parts to keep.

Connect with Delores
Website: (blogs every 2nd Tuesday)


Twitter: @delorestopliff

Remember to leave a comment to be entered to win an ecopy of Delores' story Books Afloat!

Thank you, Delores, for visiting Seekerville today!

Where Do You Get Your Ideas???

 Supposedly this is the question authors are most frequently asked.

Where Do You Get Your Ideas???

My answer to that is --- EVERYWHERE.

I am blessed.

I have no shortage of ideas. I have notebooks with ideas, computer files with ideas. I've learned to write them down when they hit, so I don't forget. That image of the writer scribbling on a scrap of napkin is all too true!

It's sort of magical, because when I go back and look through those ideas, the excitement for that story builds all over again.

When Harlequin announced the Killer Voices contest, I needed a suspense story. I remembered an idea that had come to me one night. I'd been standing at my kitchen sink washing dishes, and I could hear a block party on the next street over. That suspense writer brain kicked in and I thought WHAT IF...  Ultimately the story changed so that original idea wasn't even recognizable, but it got me started. Christmas in Hiding was the result.

A few years ago, I was sitting having coffee with my editor at RWA, and we were talking about the popularity of Amish fiction. RWA's conference that year was in Times Square. I live in NYC, but normally I avoid Times Square like the plague. I remember at the end of the conference thinking that I got the appeal of Amish life - simple, calm, as far removed from Times Square as your imagination could take you.

That got me curious to learn more about the Amish. A few weeks later, I was chatting with an author friend about her editor wanting both books set in Texas and Amish books. I joked that she should do Amish in Texas.

I was joking, but the idea stuck, so I Googled. What I found intrigued me SO much that I knew I had to use it in a story. (More about that in a minute.)

When I started writing Texas Witness Threat, I had one idea in mind. It was a question I'd thought of a few years ago. What would it feel like if you were someone who suffered anxiety and then you witnessed a murder, but no one believed you because there was no body? I have no idea where the idea came from. I was walking along the street when it popped into my mind. But I wrote it down.

When I actually started to write the story, I had no idea where the story was going - and then I remembered the result of my Google search. 

When I searched Amish in Texas, I discovered there had actually been a number of settlements, but none of them lasted very long. Oh well. 

But then I found this article, and I was so intrigued. You can go read it, but the gist is that after Ike devastated parts of south Texas, a group of Amish from Indiana came down to help rescue the animals and rebuild the fences and homes.

Amish Volunteers Help Gulf Coast Ranches Rebuild After Ike.

In that moment, a story was born because my brain started playing What if? What if they came to help, liked it, and stayed?

The result was the book with the snake cover. 

My box of books arrived last week, and I have to say, snake not withstanding, I like the cover. The art department did a fabulous job with the colors. The book glows.

I had to laugh though.  When Christmas in Hiding arrived, I took a photo of Fenway with the book. 

When I tried to replicate that for his book, he shied away from the book as if the snake was real! Oh, Fenway.

I could go on and on with where I got various story ideas, but enough about me. Where do you get your ideas? 

When we teach children to keep a writer's notebook, we tell them to fill it with seed ideas, so they'll never have to say they have nothing to write about. 

Do you have a notebook full of writing seeds or a folder full of napkin scribbles? Tell me what inspires your stories.

Mining Story Ideas

by Pam Hillman

How many times have you read the headlines in a newspaper or from an online source and thought, “well, that was interesting?”

But how many times were you able to take that small snippet in a headline or an event and turn it into a full-fledged story? Can every incident become a novel?

Maybe, maybe not.

Pssst… in the hands of a Mary Connealy or a Ruth Logan Herne, I’d say that just about any heading or topic could be turned into a full-fledged novel. :)

So, just for fun, I browsed some topics online. So many of them are extremely boring and don’t even warrant reading the article.

Mining Story Ideas

Okay, let’s mostly take all the cooking and recipe articles off the table. Sure, some of us write and read about cooks and cooking, but it’s doubtful that an article or recipe is going to send us running to our laptops to pound out a story about a French chef trained in Paris and a road-kill country cook from backwoods Mississippi. But, such a story would be quite interesting.

Mining Story Ideas

Now this subject heading caught my eye. But is there anything of substance to be found? (Sorry, this article turned out to be LONG, but I still included it.) If interested, read/skim it here.

Yes, this article had my mind thinking of characters who speak different languages trying to learn to communicate with each other; or two scientists who cannot agree on anything, but have to work together. Or a group of anthropologists who find an entire tribe of seemingly color-blind natives. Lots of possibilities here, but still it's a stretch because it's very broad and there isn't anything to really make you sit up and say "aha"!

Mining Story Ideas
Link to article

Well, this article was kind of interesting, but ideas for stories just didn’t JUMP out at me when I read it. Sure, it might be a good article to read to help with character development, but not necessarily for those big picture ideas. Moving on...

As I pondered why I was having a hard time finding just the right headings that would make us as authors sit up and take notice, I realized that I was looking in the wrong places, and my focus was too broad.

What I needed was human interest stories. Yes, we’re cooking now! I took screenshots of just the headlines for several human interest stories from People Magazine and every one of them jumpstarted my thoughts in several directions for story ideas.

Mining Story Ideas

Mining Story Ideas

Mining Story Ideas

Mining Story Ideas

Mining Story Ideas

Mining Story Ideas

All of these headings are about somebody, or a group of people. All of them jumped out at me with potential for story ideas. I especially liked the one about kids interrupting Zoom meetings. Oh, the fun someone could have writing a Rom Com where the hero is suddenly thrust into Zoom meetings and needs a nanny for his kids or nieces and nephews. I can see the chaos now, as well as the "KISS" Zoomed to the entire office. lol

So, yeah, reading recipes, or political squabbling, or the top ten ways to grow your investment portfolio won’t necessarily generate compelling stories. But delve into the headlines of human interest stories and you’ll have more ideas than you can shake a stick at!

Maybe you have all the ideas you'll ever need tucked into your folders, so this isn't necessarily about searching for stories, but about those that just JUMP out at you when you're not even actively looking. So, where do your ideas come from? The news? A snippet of something on Facebook or Twitter? A sermon? A phrase in another book? Something a friend or family member says in passing?

Mining Story Ideas
CBA Bestselling author PAM HILLMAN was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn't afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove an Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn't mind raking. Raking hay doesn't take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that's the kind of life every girl should dream of.

Story Ideas: More Than a List of Sources, They Must Spark Passion

Story Ideas: More Than a List of Sources, They Must Spark Passion

Before our post today, I would like to take a moment to honor our veterans and families.  Thank you for all you’ve given in service to our country. Please let us know in the comments today if you're a veteran or family member. We want to honor you!

Story Ideas: More Than a List of Sources, They Must Spark Passion

We recently had a blog reader email us asking where we get our story ideas, and whether it’s okay to write a story if the idea got sparked while reading someone else’s story. I’m not an attorney or able to give any legal advice about copyright law. But I can say that story ideas come from everywhere! And certainly, our creative brains get clicking while we’re reading. If you’re concerned, I’d suggest reading more info on copyright (click here). It specifically says ideas cannot be copyrighted. Still, I suggest reading up on the topic. It’s always good to be informed!

However, all of us reading here today could be told to write a story, and given details about the characters and plot, and each story would turn out differently. We all bring different perspectives, different life experiences, different voices to our work. This is what makes stories so rich!

I thought it would be fun to share a bit today about where some of us get our story ideas. I recently polled the Seeker authors, and we had a discussion about this topic. Here’s what they shared with me…

Story Ideas: More Than a List of Sources, They Must Spark Passion

I get a lot of my story ideas from research on my work in progress. I come across some interesting detail that doesn't work for the current book but sparks a whole idea for another book. I've also gotten ideas from movies, books, travel and people watching.

My idea for The Kincaid Brides Series came from a long-ago trip to Carlsbad Cavern.

Petticoat Ranch came from my husband growing up with a family with seven sons, then us having four daughters and watching his mind be boggled by the way girls act.

The Sophie's Daughters Series was based on my belief that despite all the very strict rules for women's behavior back in history, folks who headed west probably went their own way a LOT. Women NOT riding side saddle. Wearing pants. Working alongside husbands and husbands not being afraid of women's work. Thus the female doctor, wrangler and sharpshooter....all manly jobs.

A new idea came from the founder of my home town, Decatur, Nebraska....he LIED and said his name was Stephen Decatur, related to a famed Revolutionary War general. And OUR Stephen Decatur was a scoundrel...much of that has been hushed up. I'm changing the names to protect the legacy.

Story Ideas: More Than a List of Sources, They Must Spark Passion

Lots of my ideas come from research and visiting museums. Or from wanting to tackle a social issue like PTSD, war veterans, orphans, social sins...I tackle all those issues in my upcoming Regency series. Finding a timeless issue and putting it in a different social, economic, or historical environment and seeing what happens. :)

Story Ideas: More Than a List of Sources, They Must Spark Passion

We all get inspired by stories and each person tells it differently.

I'd remind folks that it's not just creativity. It's science. Action/reaction. Character arcs. I think that's where writers lack inspiration, is keeping people in their lane and building the story from how they would react under the circumstances. The mathematical side of writing fascinates me.

I'm a people watcher. And listener. And, like Mary, when I'm researching one book, a detail will jump out and be used for a different book.

Story Ideas: More Than a List of Sources, They Must Spark Passion

The basic is, where don't I get story ideas? They're EVERYWHERE. I have WAY TOO MANY, and not nearly enough time to write them all.

One example - I got the idea for Christmas in Hiding when I was standing at my kitchen sink doing dishes.  I could hear a block party on the next block and I started thinking, what if everyone was invited except one person, and what if everyone got poisoned (not fatal) except for that one person? Would she get blamed? Would she have done it? Ultimately, everything about the opening scene (and the book) changed, but that party was what triggered it.  

Another story idea (that I haven't used yet and probably won't) came as I was walking to school and saw a muddy communion veil by the curb. Like every other idea, my brain immediately turns it into a story. How did it get there? Was it just lost, thrown away? Since I write suspense.... the questions get darker. 

Story Ideas: More Than a List of Sources, They Must Spark Passion

Ideas can come from just about anywhere. Watching the news, hearing a story about someone… Other times things just pop into my head. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the middle of writing a book and then read another one with the same premise. But every writer comes at a specific situation with a different perspective. Like Ruthy said, no two books would be written the same. Different voice, different life experiences, all those things play into the telling of a story.

Story Ideas: More Than a List of Sources, They Must Spark Passion

From my experience:

I get ideas from everywhere—listening to conversations at restaurants and elsewhere, watching people (while trying not to look too nosy!), reading news reports, and listening to sermons. Because I love to write about opposites attracting, I often dream up two entirely different people to throw together in a story.

In Her Unlikely Family, I wanted to put together a stiff banker in a tough situation with a unique, generous waitress ready to jump in to help. In The Doctor’s Second Chance, I wanted to throw together a small-town rugged home contractor with an uptight big-city pediatrician whom he resented.

In A Family for Faith, I was on a flight home from an RWA conference and watched as a single dad tried over and over to put a bow in his daughter’s hair and could not manage it. I yanked out a notepad and started writing ideas for a story about dad with a daughter at an age where she really needed a mother. I also used the real-life experience of a friend of mine as part of my divorced heroine’s backstory—where her child chose to go live with his dad and the pain that caused. So that story had ideas from everywhere!

You know, for this post, I was originally going to try to create a list of places or methods for getting story ideas. But now that I’ve re-read all the input from these writers, I don’t think I’ll try to do that. Every one of us gets ideas from whatever inspires us, whatever makes us question things, whatever sends our brains off in wild directions (worse-case-scenario-itis for some of us!). :)

If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, look at what interests you. Open your eyes, ears, and heart. Pray for God to show you something that you can get passionate about. Because no matter how great an idea might seem, it really needs to be something you can wholeheartedly throw yourself into for the book to resonate and have heart.

Each of us is unique. Each of us has a lot to offer the world. Now go, enjoy writing those stories that are uniquely yours to tell!

Let’s chat! Tell us where you get your ideas. And those who aren’t writers, tell us story ideas you’d love to see written.

After more than 10 years of pursuing her dream of publication, Missy Tippens, a pastor’s wife and mom of three from near Atlanta, Georgia, made her first sale to Harlequin Love Inspired in 2007. Her books have since been nominated for the Booksellers Best, Holt Medallion, American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award, Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, Maggie Award, Beacon Contest, RT Reviewer’s Choice Award, and the Romance Writers of America RITA® Award. Visit Missy at www.missytippens.com and

Stranger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Fiction
with Beth Erin

Have you ever wanted to incorporate an unusual experience from your life into a story yet hesitated? As you read the following excerpt, I’d like to encourage you to be brave and honestly ask yourself, “Is my experience more unbelievable than facing off with a fearless hitchhiking mouse???” Read on then see what this author has to say about her experience…


Something tickled against Julia’s leg as she drove. She looked down but didn’t see anything. The cloth of her slacks must have shifted against her skin.

“What sort of house are you looking for?”

“Well, something with character and close to town.”

The tickle happened again. She shook her leg as Henry continued to talk. The tickle moved up to her knee. She glanced down, and her breath congealed into an unlocked scream in her throat.

On her knee, looking around as if it was the most normal thing to do, sat a tiny, brown field mouse.

“I’ve always loved the rock homes, or even barns people have refurbished to maintain the general appeal of Derbyshire’s countryside and architecture.”

Oh no! Henry! She had to keep him from knowing the mouse was in the car with them. After all, she’d promised to protect him. She focused her gaze forward and pushed words from her throat. “Rock houses? And…um…what do you mean exactly?”

He paused and examined her with those marble-like eyes. She forced a smile to encourage him, and with another hitch in the silence, he began explaining the beauty of the gray fieldstone homes sprinkled through the lush green hillsides the mouse moved an inch or two up her thigh. She held in a squeak but couldn’t keep her leg from jerking. Somehow, the little mouse completed a ninja move from the door handle to the edge of the dashboard nearest her window.

Stranger Than Fiction
And there it sat, staring at her with its round, black eyes, whiskers twitching as if it knew exactly who to visit next. Her stomach tensed. Her body froze. How could something so small be so unnerving?

Henry continued to talk, thankfully oblivious to the entire situation, but Julia quickly took inventory of the road ahead. One the right, the road dipped into a deep ditch. On the left, there was oncoming traffic.

Three cars.

When was there ever so much traffic on this isolated country road?

She gritted her teeth together.

When there was a mouse loose in her van and a mouse-phobic hero trapped inside, that’s when.

She examined the passing landscape. They weren’t going super fast, so maybe if she rolled down her window, she could just flick the mouse out.

Henry’s words came to a stop. She hadn’t heard one of them, but she conjured up another distracting question.

“How soon do you hope to buy a house of your own?”

He studied her again. “Like I said, as soon as possible. I’ve been saving a long time and had some solid success with my last few projects.”

“Oh, how wonderful. Which movies have been your favorite to write the music for?”

His wonderful voice filled the space again, and Julia reached over to roll down the window. Only an inch at first. The mouse didn’t move, just kept plotting.

Another inch.

His whiskers twitched.

Another car passed them on the left.

Another inch. Julia released her hold on the window button and began a stealthy ascent toward the furry rodent, but as the wind fluffed the back of the mouse’s fur, it took off…across the dashboard, stopping directly in front of Henry.

“There’s something about creating the unexpected and having others appreciate it that’s reward—”

Stranger Than Fiction
Yep. Henry saw the mouse. There was this moment of a stare-down between man and beast…well, not really. Could a little field mouse be referred to as a beast? From the expression on Henry’s face, maybe.

Julia tried to keep her gaze ahead and somehow prepare to vault in front of Henry should the little rodent decide to leap. She slowed her speed.

“In thirty seconds, I can pull over,” she whispered.

“It’s staring at me.” His voice rasped the words, his face frozen forward.

“I’ve never heard of anyone dying from a mouse attack. I promise. Twenty seconds and we’ll pull over.”

He’d gripped the armrests so hard his knuckles turned white. “I may have a heart attack in ten, because my pulse is playing a hard and fast drumroll in my ears.”

Julia accelerated. “Ten seconds.”

(shared with permission from When You Look at Me by Pepper Basham) 

author's note...

"I’d love to say this scene was fictional because the memory still causes an uncomfortable chill to move up my leg…a memory chill, I guess, but it wasn't. Thankfully, I was alone in my minivan on my way to work, but the entire scene played out pretty much like poor Julia sees it. And, of course, I’d was driving on the ONE STRETCH of country highway where I couldn’t pull over.

Needless to say, when I finally made it to work, I was still shaking…mostly with laughter, but shaking nonetheless.

What happened to the mouse? Well, you’ll have to read the rest of the scene to find out. Needless to say, the whole purse whomping incident was not exaggerated…and I’m sure there were some worried passersby who witnessed my madness too!" - Pepper Basham

further encouragement...

Just in case y'all might still be feeling a bit apprehensive about sharing your own experiences, you don't have to rely on only one example… I’ve collected several for your consideration!

“When the peacocks go on the attack in one of my books....yep, that happened to me at the zoo. Who would have thought..." (In Good Company) - Jen Turano

“A late-night skinny-dipping adventure off the coast of Akumal, Mexico, which turned into an unsettling experience when some guy walking along the beach spotted our swimsuits ... & sat down to wait until we came out, became an even more intense scene in my third novel, Altared." - Sharyn Kopf

“The family story that my grandfather ignored the rattlesnake under the table until he finished his fried chicken! Totally retold it in Still Waters!” - Lindsey P. Brackett

Stranger Than Fiction
“When my dad was in the army his troop was under attack so he and his friends jumped out a second-story window, landed and ran to safety. My dad landed on his feet (which is horrible for your body) and ended up with knees swelling to the size of volleyballs and damage there for the rest of his life. I gave the hero of my debut novel the same injury/cause.” - Jessica Keller

“In my first novel, Like There's No Tomorrow, with Ian the Scot and Emily the American... the part when Ian was nudged to pray for the person he hated, and how, after doing it and begrudgingly at first, over time, he felt a release from the hate and felt only compassion for the person. Based on a real-life experience of mine.” - Camille Eide

“This happened to me, and I wrote it into one of my contemporary novels.

I drove up to the drive-through window at the bank, removed the canister, put my transaction inside, and returned the canister to the Pneumatic Tube...then sat back and waited for the inside teller to greet me. She did not. In the meantime, cars on either side of me kept moving, which I thought was highly unfair. A couple cars pulled up behind me, and the third car back even honked, trying to “wake up” the teller I presumed. The longer I waited, the more impatient I grew. I even glanced back at one point and threw up my arms at the guy behind me. The grumpy driver did not respond.

After another minute or two, the speaker crackled and the teller said, “Are you just about done out there?” What? I imagine I gave her a dumb look, and that’s when it dawned on me! I had not hit the ‘send’ button. My canister had not even moved! Quick as a fly, I hit the button, shrunk down in my seat, and waited another minute. When the canister came back, I didn’t even bother to count the money. I just skedaddled out of the bank parking lot, hitting a curb on my way to the road. Halfway home, I glanced at the seat next to me. There was the canister!!! That poor, poor man who had been waiting behind me - not to mention the other customers!” - Sharlene Baker MacLaren

Whether your experience is hilarious or miraculous, scenes inspired by your life season stories with something precious and unique, YOU! Stranger than fiction moments are also a great opportunity to connect with your readers by sharing the real story in an author note or your newsletter or on social media! Embrace the outrageous story fodder God has blessed you with, writer friends! 

Have you used (or are you considering using) real-life stranger than fiction experiences in your stories? We'd love to hear them and your thoughts on the topic!

Stranger Than Fiction
Beth Erin is a Christian fiction enthusiast, book reviewer, and blogger. She strives to edify and connect with readers and authors at Faithfully Bookish and on social media. 

Beth also contributes to the Seekerville, Hoarding Books, and Diversity Between the Pages blogs. She is passionate about promoting authors and their entertaining, encouraging, and redemptive stories.

Stories Surround Us. So How Do We Harness Them?

Stories Surround Us. So How Do We Harness Them?

You live in the real world.

Me, too.

In the real world we don't always have the chance to ensure the happy ending so many of us like, but we do have our own unique experiences. Those experiences begin in childhood, roll through young adulthood and right on into our lives as card-carrying adults with all the responsibilities that go along with it.

But where does all this fit into a story matrix? And since I write romance and women's fiction, I'm going to stick to those primarily, but you'll see how anything can be put in new context.

Let's start with today's news stories from my local paper:

Oh, wait, the first story is too gruesome.... (Ruthy refuses to write or talk about alligator attack stories)

Okay, still looking at articles.... aha! Here's one:

A. Hotel for indigent people is closed by town council

Okay, this is doable. There are so many ways to look at this. Let's make a list:
1. "Homeless shelter" angle 
2. Real estate buyouts 
3. City politician trying to make a difference 
4. Bad cop muscling locals for graft money 
5. Local minister fights for the rights of the poor 
6. Kindhearted fire marshal sees danger in old, decaying building

Stories Surround Us. So How Do We Harness Them?
Now we go deeper:

Local politicians demanded the closing of a non-certified shelter for the homeless, citing unsafe conditions. Maybe we've got a formerly homeless heroine who is dedicated to making life better for the downtrodden? Her mother was homeless and she's got a "give back" heart?

That block of Old East Main is currently under consideration as the eastern border of the newly proposed high-rise apartment building featuring lofts for downtown young executives. So we can take our hero or heroine as the developer, the Realtor, the homeless shelter manager, a good cop trying to clean up the force and investigating the bad cop, a minister fighting for the rights of the downtrodden or the fire marshal who sees the dangers inherent in the old building and can't stand by and let people die.

So from the above brainstorming list, we can use any or all of those ideas to deepen and flesh out the story. Or just one and go in a very different direction. Then, based on what you do there, you need a hero or heroine who is standing in the way of progress, not because they're jerks but because they need to stand their ground. Their job could be on the line, they could be paying back a kindness done to them, they could be truly invested in the city's economic growth or they could be the secret daughter of one of the homeless people. SECRETS ARE A VERY GOOD WAY TO DEEPEN THE PLOT!
Stories Surround Us. So How Do We Harness Them?
3. Fairy Godmothers Fix Prom Gowns for Local Students

Okay, this one could be so much fun... Let's brainstorm a list:

1.Organizer is the heroine.

2.Organizer is heroine's mother, a real do-gooder down-home type person.

3.Heroine is busy executive.

4. Heroine had the best of everything, can't see the magic of hand-me-down gowns but is pressed to help by what?

5. Hero is cop? Sheriff? Teacher?

6. Schools with poverty populations are often under-performing. Does this open a new door for heroine?

Maybe heroine has to help because she's assigned community service. Picture a small town and she crossed up the judge by being hoity toity! (oh what fun that would be to write, think Doc Hollywood or Cars only with prom dresses!) Hero lost daughter in tragic crash, donated her gowns. He'd have to be a 40ish hero to do this timeline.... but that's okay, we love all heroes! School is under-performing and heroine is in town to change things? Or was already in town (lives there) but was assigned by state to go into school and write a report? And offers her old gowns to the cause? Hero works at school? Hero is town sheriff and trying to help disadvantaged youth and heroine sees more than she bargained for and realizes it's not a black-and-white situation. Or hero's never been married and it was his niece that perished in a crash and broke up his older brother's marriage, leaving you a wide open door for book two.

Depending on setting a story like this throws open the doors for diversity. A huge plus.

Keep Fairy Godmothers as your voices of wisdom as hero and heroine bump heads.

Now it's your turn. Throw an idea out there and let's see if we can come up with back-and-forth brainstorming ideas to layer it in. When folks tell me they don't know how to deepen a story, I realize they're looking too broadly... narrow the focus, get to the nitty gritty, either the dirty laundry or small town bigotry or nepotism or racial divides or grudge-holding. We are all sinners enough that looking to deepen a story is as simple as letting people be people. They'll do it all for you, I promise!

And while you're jotting something down for today's back-and-forth, I've got fresh coffee and tea, homemade lemonade, sprigs of mint, lumps of sugar and homemade l-o-v-e cookies, shortbread cookies with a spritz of rosemary in the dough... rosemary is the herb of love!

And speaking of love.... I love that Welcome to Wishing Bridge is on sale for Kindle for $1.99!!!!! Such a beautiful story of three women who reunite when one sends out a cry for help... and how God's perfect timing puts them all in the right place at the right time. Oh, that God! :)

Stories Surround Us. So How Do We Harness Them?

Stop in, toss in a comment and I'll tuck your name into the farm hat (it's farm season in WNY!) for a copy of this absolutely beautiful award-winning book "The First Gift".

Stories Surround Us. So How Do We Harness Them?

A story of one child... one teacher... and the men who love them both.

Kerry McHenry is nobody’s fool. She sees her own tough upbringing in Cassie’s dire situation, so she works tirelessly to guide the young girl, trying to help her become everything that God wants her to be. At the same time, she finds herself torn between a commitment-phobic pediatric oncologist from a nearby town and Phillipsburg’s widowed deputy sheriff, a complicated man who is still angry with God. As the stakes grow ever higher and the characters’ lives intersect in unexpected ways, each will face a true test of faith—and come face to face with indisputable evidence of God’s love.

Stories Surround Us. So How Do We Harness Them?
Multi-published, bestselling novelist Ruth Logan Herne has written over 40 novels and novellas and is pretty sure she's living the dream. Stop by her website, friend her on facebook or see what she's up to on Twitter @RuthLoganHerne. An avid gardener and baker, she's pretty sure she does both because flowers don't talk back and cookies are everyone's go-to food!SaveSave

Mining Your Family Tree for Story Ideas

Mining Your Family Tree for Story Ideas

by Jan Drexler

We tend to think our families are nice, normal, boring people, right?
Oh, sure, there’s Aunt Hattie, who was rumored to have been a flapper back in the 1920’s. Or Uncle Jack, who left home when he was fourteen and didn’t write to the folks he left behind for twenty years, after he had become a successful cattle rancher in Colorado.
But other than that…

Mining Your Family Tree for Story Ideas

From my very first book, I have delved into the roots of my family’s past to find characters and story ideas. One part of my family has solid Amish roots dating back to the Reformation, and that branch gives me some great fodder for my Amish stories.
Another branch is a bunch of ne’er-do-wells who ranged from murderers and thieves to river rats living along the banks of the Ohio River. I haven't started writing about that side of the family. Yet.
In this post, I hope to give you some ideas of how you can exploit use your own family stories in your writing. 
Don't assume this post is only for historical writers, though! Once you've found your story nugget, you can put it in any story setting you like!

Mining Your Family Tree for Story Ideas

Start with the Facts
The first place to start is with your genealogy. I use, but there are other websites to help you search for your ancestors. Almost every library has a genealogy room, and they are often staffed with people to help you get started. Or perhaps one of your relatives has already started a genealogy study - ask!
Old photo albums are another great place to start. Hopefully, someone identified who is in the pictures!
Mining Your Family Tree for Story Ideas

Once you plug in your grandparents’ names and where they were born, a whole new world starts opening.
A simple family tree grows branches as you find the names of your great-grandparent’s siblings and their descendants, and when you dig deeper, you find details that you might have skimmed over if you weren’t looking for stories.
For instance, you might find that your great-uncle had a wife who died in Ireland before he emigrated to America, and that he left three children behind.
Or you might find that the person you knew as “Great-Grandma” was actually your grandfather’s foster mother, who had only stepped in to take care of the children when your great-grandparents disappeared in a snow storm…
It's easy to get caught up in the "what-if's!"

Mining Your Family Tree for Story Ideas

Fill in the Missing Pieces
Through studying your genealogy, you can find out when your ancestors came to America. Further searching can reveal the ship’s manifest, listing the other passengers. 
Census records will tell you where you ancestors lived, who lived with them, and who their neighbors were.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

Once you have your details – even only a few – you can let your imagination and story-building skills go to work. And remember: You’re writing fiction, not biography. Anything goes.

Mining Your Family Tree for Story Ideas

Expand the Playing Field
When you have your story nugget, you start expanding your knowledge of the time period and setting.
Let me use an example from my own research.
While working on my husband’s genealogy, I found that his great-grandfather emigrated to America from Germany in 1880, accompanied by his wife and two adult children, Barbara and Caspar…and a nine-month-old girl named Maria. 
Further searching revealed the name of the woman who would eventually become Caspar’s wife, who was traveling alone on the same ship.
Those are the bare-bones facts, but do you see the story fodder in these details?
Less than three months later, Barbara married a man twice her age who was living in Toledo. Augustus had emigrated five years earlier from the same town in Germany as Barbara’s family, so they must have known each other back then.
The story’s details keep growing, don’t they?
And what happened to Maria? After Barbara’s mother passed away a few years later, Augustus moved his family – including a five-year-old Maria – to a Nebraska homestead just south of Lincoln.

Mining Your Family Tree for Story Ideas

When I finally write this piece of family history into a story or series, I’ll research homesteading in Nebraska, ocean crossings in 1880, what the immigration experience was before Ellis Island, overland travel from New York to Toledo, and then to Nebraska.
I’ll use some of my favorite resources.
One is Historic Mapworks, where you can search maps from around the world for almost any time period. I have already been able to find Augustus and Barbara’s homestead using this resource.
I also use Google Maps extensively. Even though the maps are contemporary, you can still learn a lot about a place through their street view and 3-D features.
 After I get a sense of “place” through the maps, I start looking for source materials for research. I use internet search engines to start looking for books written about my subject. For this story I would search for European immigrant’s stories and homesteader’s diaries from Nebraska. I would also search for any other books written about these subjects.

Give Your Characters Life!
Once I have the setting, I start forming my characters. I use what I’ve learned in my research to create their Goals, Motivations and Conflicts. People are similar in all time periods, so while I’ll want to remain true to the culture of the time period I've chosen, my characters will have the same wants and desires that we do today.
When I write this book, I think Barbara will be an interesting person to learn to know. How did her experiences shape her life?
And then there’s that mystery: Whose daughter was Maria? What would she have been like as a young girl?

Mining Your Family Tree for Story Ideas

Dig Deep into Your Roots
Don’t tell me your family is full of boring people!
Think about why we write - it’s because we’re interested in people. We listen when they tell their own stories and our minds snatch the fascinating details out of the air.
When you mine your family tree, you're digging for those details. Those tidbits that cause your mind to start chasing the "what-if's."
Talk to your relatives. Ask them what they remember about your family. And it doesn’t have to be someone a generation or two older than you – my brother remembers stories from our family's past that I don’t, and he’s less than three years older than I am. 
Ask questions, then listen. What you hear just might be your next great story idea!

Have you ever mined your family tree for story ideas? Tell us about it!

One commenter will win a copy of my latest release from Love Inspired Historical, The Amish Nanny's Sweetheart. (US only please)

Mining Your Family Tree for Story Ideas
Love in Plain Sight 

As nanny for her nephew, Judith Lapp’s finally part of a vibrant, joyful Amish community instead of living on the outskirts looking in. But teaching her neighbors’ Englischer farmworker to read Pennsylvania Dutch wasn’t part of her plan. And the more time she spends with Guy Hoover, the more he sparks longings for a home and family of Judith’s own.

Guy figured he would never be truly accepted by his Amish employers’ community—even though the Mast family treats him like a son. But Judith’s steadfast caring shows him that true belonging could be within his reach…if he and Judith can reconcile their very different hopes—and hearts.

Sparking Ideas Guest Blogger Delores Topliff - Free Story Ideas: Free for the Taking plus Book GiveawayWhere Do You Get Your Ideas???Mining Story IdeasStory Ideas: More Than a List of Sources, They Must Spark PassionStranger Than FictionStories Surround Us. So How Do We Harness Them?Mining Your Family Tree for Story Ideas

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