7 Ways to Use Life in Your Writing

photo by Elaine Cougler

Do you ever stop and think a certain event, sight, story, circumstance, or person would make a great story? Have you ever read someone’s blog post and marveled at the way they used a common or not so common place or event to enrich their writing? I see it all the time. And I think of endless examples although getting them written is another story entirely.

My writing friend has just published her first novel over at Crimson Romance and she (Sharon Clare) guest-posted today about a scene from her book which didn’t make the final edit. From the comments maybe it should have, but that’s another story. The point is Sharon was sitting in her lovely yard writing and saw — well, just click above and read it. An ordinary everyday occurrence led to an interesting scene in her writing.

Does that happen to you?

7 Scenarios Which Might End up in Your Writing

  1. You sit in a crowded airport across from a couple who are absolutely silent. She is totally covered except for her eyes which, via furtive glances, you realize are so lifeless they’re almost dead. What is the story here?
  2. Early one morning, before you’re even out of your pj’s an insistent ringing of your doorbell summons you. Who might it be? What is wrong? Is someone hurt? Dozens of questions flood your thoughts and your footsteps are masked by the thumping of your heart. Who or what is on the other side of that door?
  3. You unpack a bunch of a deceased loved one’s belongings and find a reel-to-reel audio tape which, you think, might have the long-lost recording of your duet with your mother from many years ago. Also in the box unlabeled reel-to-reel film from an earlier technical time and you wonder. What could be on them? Are they rediscovered Elvis tapes? (worth money!) Or unknown family recordings? Or something more sinister? Or even something totally embarrassing to your family?
  4. The phone rings and your husband answers but even across the room you can hear the yelling coming out of the receiver. And your husband’s face goes from smiling, to frowning, to beet-red, and then he… you fill in the rest.
  5. You go to a funeral for a 90-year-old distant cousin, taking along your 90-year-old favorite aunt, and the minister’s eulogy includes amazing and unknown-to-you facts about your cousin’s life. Afterwards a fortyish man comes up to you holding a half-eaten salmon sandwich in his hand and tells you he is your–wait for it–brother! And you never knew. What is the story?
  6. That neighbor’s cat, always hopping the fence and using your kids’ sand box for his own personal litter station, comes right up to you as you sit by the pool in your Muskoka chair (Americans, read Adirondack) nursing your summer slush while you read Sharon Kay Penman’s latest historical, and, on the deck before you, he coughs up a disgusting hunk of gunk. On closer inspection you see it is a tiny capped plastic cylinder. Yuk! You wonder…you look away…you glance back…and pick it up. After you wash it, and your hands, till all the mess is missing, you open it. Inside you find….
  7. Your family helps you celebrate a BIG, make that REALLY BIG birthday and one of the cards holds tickets to a tiny village in Italy where your uncle who died in WWII is buried. And when you go there, right next to his headstone is another with your husband’s name on it. What is the likelihood of coincidences in our lives?

By the way, these are variations of the truth, for that’s what writers do, isn’t it?

What kind of occurrences have made you feel like writing a book? Are they real or are they from the what if? section of your brain? Consider leaving a comment and sharing.


23 thoughts on “7 Ways to Use Life in Your Writing

  1. Elaine, thank you so much for referring to my post today. The scene didn’t make the novel because of word count. I needed to cut something to fit the publisher’s requirements.

    I love your prompts! What great story ideas. I especially love #7. Isn’t it true, that stories are everywhere. The next time I’m stuck, I’m coming back to this post!


  2. Really interesting suggestions, Elaine. I have no idea where some of my ideas in my novel came from. Some of them seemed to emerge out of thin air, while others situations I took from my own life and gave them a different slant. That’s the wonderful thing about writing fiction. To a great extent you can do just about anything with your characters and situations – anything, that is, that would be believable in real life. Unless you write fantasy or sci-fi of course.


    • This was an interesting exercise for me to do as I put in true details and then made a left turn into fantasy or the possibility of fantasy. It showed me how easily we writers can take everyday events and reshape them. And, of course, your caveat about believability is right on the money, Diane! Thanks for visiting.


  3. Love these scenarios. I am a people watcher and everyone has a story. If I don’t know yours, I’m happy to make one up for you. Took me years to realize not everyone does this, but hey, I’m a writer!


  4. Hello Elaine
    I’ve recently discovered you through the lovely and talented writers, Sherry Isaac and Sharon Clare, and I’m enjoying your posts. I couldn’t agree more about the craft material we garner from the world around us. The tagline on my blog is “everyone has a story” and I am constantly amazed at the never ending abundance!


  5. Hello Elaine

    I want to say that I enjoy your blog which I have only recently discovered. I couldn’t agree more that everyday living is the greatest inspiration we can have for our writing. In fact, my first novel which will be released very soon was inspired by events in the life of someone very close to me, and my second novel which I am currently in the process of completing is also inspired by events in the life of a good friend although the book itself is entirely fictitious. I guess it stands to reason that we are going to write about things that are familiar to us in most cases.


    • Welcome, Carol, and thanks for visiting. We never know what will happen to us that, in retrospect, will turn out to have been a good thing.When I was in high school many years ago, I failed Geometry which was a huge disappointment to an A student. I had to take it again the next year and hated every proposition of it. But. I learned that I could fail at something and still carry on to complete my goals, a lesson which has meant far more to me than all the now-forgotten courses where I excelled.


      • How true Elaine and isn’t it life’s challenges and disappointments that give depth and strength to our characters, allowing us to transfer those things to our fictional characters.


  6. I enjoyed my first visit to your blog, Elaine. I’ll be back. I love following the sort of starters you’ve suggested and often set them for my on-line writers group (for South African Christian writers). However, I’d just like to say the principles also apply to non-fiction. My book, Strength Renewed, is made up of 90 true incidents from my journey through cancer treatment. In each case, I’ve taken the story and tied it to Scripture, using such questions as “What if God hadn’t . . . ?” or “What can this teach me?” Somehow it makes these situations more bearable if you look for the hidden story line, don’t you think?


    • Welcome, Shirley! I am so glad you found me. Your book sounds excellent especially since it comes from your own experience. That means every one of those 90 points will resonate with your reader. When I clicked on your name it only took me to your Gravatar. Do you have a website?
      I have found that people I meet who’ve had life-changing events and made their way past them usually have learned that we have to accentuate the positive, as the old song says. You certainly are doing that, Shirley. Thanks for commenting here.


  7. Inspired by Gertrud Stein, Sherwood Anderson met Hemingway and passed on his insight for character development. Hemingway added his theme of courage but beat his reader to death with violence and mayhem. When Anderson went to New Orleans to teach Faulkner was influenced, but added his perseverance all the way past stark realism to a plethora of ugly and mean characters for his readers to try to digest. Anderson’s trip to California gave Steinbeck the same lesson, but Steinbeck gave his readers hope over all odds. Rohn Federbush


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