Story ideas from real life

by Gail Z. Martin

OK, so here’s the making of a fantasy story…..

Once upon a time there’s a king and he’s come into possession of a magical item that has to be eliminated before it destroyed the entire kingdom.  Everyone agrees that if the magic item isn’t eliminated, it will cause a catastrophe.  Then the king’s advisors and the nobles begin to squabble.  Each side has ideas on the best way to get rid of the dangerous magical item, and there are hidden agendas in abundance.  No one is telling the truth, and everyone is out for his own self interest, regardless of the cost to the kingdom.  A few of the loudest nobles think they can discredit the king by making any plan to get rid of the magical item fail, and they’re willing to risk destroying the kingdom because their soothsayers have told them that the magical item isn’t really as dangerous as the others believe.  Political intrigue and backstabbing abound, while a hapless, helpless kingdom awaits a hero with the courage to take action…..

Hmm….sound familiar?  For those who have been under a rock (lucky you!), the above is a thinly-veiled version of the budget war in Washington.  But strip out the names of modern legislators and political parties and it could be a power struggle in Ancient Rome or in Medieval Europe or in a fictional kingdom, or on another planet.

The point is, people are people, and regardless of the issue or the time period, they can be counted upon to act in certain ways.  Much as the nostalgists would prefer to think otherwise, our ancestors and forefathers weren’t really any more noble, selfless or moral than modern-day folks.

What this means is, your next idea for a novel could be as close as today’s headlines.  Every published author gets asked, “Where do you get your ideas?”  But the truth is, you have only to read history or this week’s newsmagazine to get more ideas than you could write about in a lifetime.

Start by asking “what if.”  “What if” the situation didn’t happen now, but in the past?  What if it wasn’t the president and Congress, but a king and nobles?  Or maybe an emperor and the generals?  What if the catastrophe were more than economic?  What if the magic wasn’t  confidence in the financial system, but real magic?  What if the backstabbing was more than figurative?  If you’re stuck for ideas, start with the real stories in the headlines and replace one element after another to see what happens.  Replace the people, the place, the central object, revise the stakes, change the technology.  Getting some ideas?  Go forth and write!

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