Where Do Stories Come From?

Students often ask me this question, and I usually respond with a flippant answer. “It’s the bourbon,” I’ll say or something equally dumb. But it’s much more likely that I’ll get my ideas from daily life unless I’m just building a new tale for a continuing series.

But stories from daily life? Especially my daily life? How can they not be boring?

It’s all about using one’s creativity. Start with something commonplace and imagine ways in which it becomes fantastic. The technique is called “What If?”

My bride and I visited the magnificent Gibbs Gardens (see note at end) on her birthday. While wandering the trails through acre after acre of woodland hills flooded with daffodils, we came upon the sculpture garden. (I later learned these delightful art pieces were designed to honor each of Gibbs’s grandchildren.)

But why couldn’t these fanciful statues be the genesis of new stories? One could look at any of them and ask, “What if?”

For instance, what if this little charmer actually had the power to summon butterflies at will? Or have them do her bidding? What if she needed them to keep watch over someone or something? How would they communicate, and what would she do with the knowledge gained?

Not all such questions need answering, but asking them frees up the options and offers potential direction. Could this smiling little girl be anything but innocent? One might argue it either way and produce a story well worth reading.

Or one might use another of these wonderful sculptures and produce an entirely different story. Where, for instance, might one go with two children riding on a huge tortoise? They’re clearly having the time of their lives, but how did they get there? From whence came their sturdy mount, and more importantly, where is it going? Who’s behind it? How did it happen?

All of this is grist for the mental mill; one needs only to tap into it.

And, while we’re still on the grounds, though a short hike from the bulk of the sculptures, there are other potential stories. What if this fellow is lurking in the background of all the other tales?

While these story-stimulating questions may have the essence of something from the pens of the Grimm brothers, there’s nothing wrong with that! Stories can evolve from anywhere and anything. The only limits are those a writer chooses to impose.

So, the next time you wonder what in the world you’re going to write about, just ask yourself, “What if?”


(Note: Gibbs Gardens is located in Ball Ground, Georgia, roughly an hour north of Atlanta. This 300-acre property includes a stunning, European-style manor house and two hundred acres of manicured gardens, paths, and woodland. Prepare yourself for a delightful day outdoors!)

About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
This entry was posted in short fiction, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Where Do Stories Come From?

  1. Sonya says:

    I loved this, Josh. You are so fortunate to be able to see a story in just about anything!

  2. Freddie Lloyd Blackwell says:

    Very good points and illustrations. My wife and I went there a couple of years ago and enjoyed the beauty and the design. I am a Master Gardner so I especially found it interesting.

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