Flights of Fancy by Ann Evans

How's your imagination?  
We all know the story of the ugly duckling that
turned into a beautiful swan

Are you always thinking up new plots and story-lines? Can you conjure up new characters at the drop of a hat? Or, like me, do you sometimes feel you haven't a creative bone in your body.

Well perhaps because I've been doing quite a few school visits recently and been asking the children where they get their ideas from, I've realised that 'from our imagination' is just one point of reference. And because I've called this blog  'Flights of Fancy' I thought I'd illustrate it with some photos of birds!

I can't help thinking that the main source of ideas comes from our everyday life.  Just take a trip to Tesco or a walk around town and you'll find a multitude of possible characters. Unaware that they could be at the heart of the next best seller, these individuals go parading by, allowing us to observe, listen to and pick up ideas from. 

You only have to wander through any city or town centre to spot someone you could write about. Of course you’re only going on appearance.. You can’t know what their soul is like, or what their hopes and dreams are. Sometimes though, you can guess at their problems. Often you can pick up on their background and family life. You can snatch snippets of conversation. You can detect accents, dialects and rhythms of speech. You can see the relationships between people. And you can see relationships breaking down.

Writers need to be hawk-like, swooping down to snatch
up snippets of conversations.
In most stories you only need a spark of an idea to set you writing. When you’re observing passers by, you get more than a spark. You might get long seconds or even minutes where you can make a close observation. It’s as if we have a stream of never-ending ideas and inspirations parading past our eyes all the time. It’s just a matter of reaching out and grabbing one of those snippets and seeing where it takes you.

In my experience, it’s always been a little glimpse of real life that’s set me writing something new– or helped me to continue with what I'd been writing. For instance, an old man with a long coat, hat and bag inspired a Christmas story. Sunlight glinting off a mountain top inspired The Beast. An email from a little girl inspired the follow-on book, The Reawakening. A bit of news from my brother inspired Fishing for Clues; a friend in a band inspired Stealing the Show; horses in a field inspired Pointing the Finger.

Looking at my titles, I can pinpoint where the inspiration or idea came from in practically every instance. Mostly, it was something I’d done, seen or heard in real life. The short story about to go into my writing classes next anthology called Nightmares was inspired by a crushed pop can sitting on the dashboard of my car. Its reflection looked very macabre. The story was written in my head before I’d reached home.

Writers need to use the good, the bad and the ugly to
their advantage.
You can even turn bad experiences into something positive. So, if somebody speaks unkindly to you or treats you unfairly, what's to stop you putting them (or someone very like them) into a story where the tables are turned? Or make that argument the basis for a story or a scene that you're writing at the time. If someone is unwell, take note of the pallor and the tone of their voice, and when you're next writing about someone who is sick, make them even more true to life by using your first hand experience.

The everyday places that we go to can be the settings for stories and scenes. Crowded streets, deserted streets, country lanes, motorways with speeding traffic. Shopping precincts, churches, boarded up buildings, stately homes, the office where you work; the school your child attends; the local pub; the post office, the library, the doctor’s waiting room, the hospital ward.

Just like Mr Wise Owl, writers need to use their brains
and be aware of what's around them

Of course as writers we do this all the time  - subconsciously drawing on our own experiences every time we sit down to write. Although I think we can sometimes forget that all this is available to tap into. 

Last year, on a writers' retreat in Gozo, we were given a writing exercise, which everyone found really useful.  So if you're short of an idea, you could do worse than trying this:

Think back to yesterday (or today) and pick out one little incident, no matter how mundane. Begin free-writing it up – allowing it to go off in any direction. See where it takes you.

So how about you, had any flights of fancy recently?

Thank you to Rob Tysall of Tysall's Photography ( for the photos which were all taken incidentally at the Nuneaton & Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary. And that's not really Mr Wise Owl above - it's Geoff Grewcock who does an amazing job rescuing injured wildlife.

Please visit my website:
Out now: Become a Writer - A step by step guide.


madwippitt said…
Yep, it's not eavesdropping, it's research, as I constantly tell everyone! Although jotting things down in notebooks looks a bit suspicious I do admit ... But listening is important for helping to get dialogue right.
Lee said…
Madwippitt, just make sure you're not jotting it down in Arabic. You may cause a panic...

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