Using Observation To Generate Ideas

One of the trickiest things about writing and other creative endeavors is coming up ideas. Knowing what you want to write about is a key element for any project. So where do ideas come from and how can you generate ideas when you’re at a loss for how to get started.

The ultimate source: Observation

This is a big source of ideas. When I drive, I like to play a game. I look at the car next to me at the light and then make up a story in my head about that person’s life. Then I start to ask myself “What if?” Say I see a guy next to me drumming on his steering wheel and singing at the top of his lungs. What if he just got his dream job? How would that story play out? Or, what if he just came from a terrible fight with his fiancee? Is he trying to distract himself from the pain? Playing the “what if” game can lead you down rabbit holes that could lead to an interesting story. And you don’t just have to play that in the car; you can do it while shopping, eating at a restaurant, or wherever. It’s just a matter of observing what’s going on around you, then dreaming up what it might mean.

People watching can also give you fun snippets of dialogue that you can use later in a completely different context. You can watch how different people react in different situations. Guy in the fast food line freak out when his fries are cold? Mother patiently wiping the hands of her toddler after he grabbed some dirt from the ground? What types of things do they say? Even the simplest actions can help you to understand how people act and react, which can help you develop realistic, lively characters. You don’t need to eavesdrop on people, but sometimes it’s easy to overhear snippets of conversation that might have an interesting phrase or accent to it that sparks your imagination.

Observing the settings around you can also help you get ideas for your own settings in your writing. Imagine you’re writing a scene in a restaurant. What does it look like? Is it casual or formal? How are the waiters and waitresses dressed. What’s on the table? You can make up these kinds of details, but making some observations at restaurants you go to can help you build a realistic world.

Naming characters can be a difficult task. It seems like no matter what name you come up with, you know someone who has that name or have some negative association with that name. Out in public, you may hear unusual or even traditional names that might fit a character you’re trying to name.

Stories happen within worlds, sometimes worlds like the ones we live in. Sometimes they happen on the planet Xerxes. Either way, observing the world around you can give you some insight into personality traits, plotting, dialogue, or settings you might want to use in your writing. Take advantage of the rich source of ideas all around you!

How do you use observation to generate ideas? Comment below.