Where to get inspiration for stories? by Author McKay Mertz
The easy answer to “Where to get inspiration for stories?” is well…everywhere. People draw inspiration from all kinds of places, but for me, I’ve found three specific, reliable sources or methods to find inspiration to write stories. Hopefully, this inspires you.
I find a lot of inspiration for stories by listening to podcasts. Anything from true crime podcasts, film review podcasts, and my personal favourite—Stuff You Should Know. The idea for my first novel, Reincarnate, really started after I was listening to a podcast of SYSK where the hosts discussed the topic of how dying works.
In the podcast, they described a real story from California about a man who established a cryonics business that would accept the bodies of deceased persons to freeze. One day, several frozen bodies mysteriously disappeared from the man’s cryonics facility and after an investigation by local authorities, it seemed that the bodies had been stolen. I got to thinking how cool it would be to write a story about a similar situation and maybe these stolen dead bodies weren’t actually stolen. What if they had discovered the key to keep themselves from ageing and wanted to keep it to themselves so they faked their deaths, had their bodies frozen, then escaped to go live in Buenos Aires? Or, what if they were frozen and woke up hundreds of years later?
I’m certainly not claiming that these types of ideas haven’t already been thought of and used in movies or other books, but that was where the premise for my own story began and was the stepping off point until it slowly evolved into the idea of an assassin who could literally become anyone else by transplanting her brain.
Reading other stories, and watching movies or shows, is also another great source of inspiration for me. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I think it’s hard to find a truly original idea nowadays. (Just look at how many remakes or prequels or sequels Hollywood and Disney are coming out with these days). Even unique, seemingly original ideas for stories have elements of other ideas built into them. And I think that’s normal and awesome. As a writer, I find a lot of inspiration from other writer’s stories. Now, there’s a VERY delicate line between finding inspiration from another story and the P-word. That’s right, I mean plagiarism.
Nothing about plagiarism is okay, but there’s nothing wrong with reading a story, gaining inspiration from how the author built a magic system, or how they created a new race of elves, or how they solved world-hunger and wrote about a utopian society that’s actually a dystopian society, and then creating your own world that has small elements of that. As long as, in the end, your story is unique to you.
I once worked with an author as a beta reader and he was writing about a magic system that was nearly identical to a highly successful author whose work I’d already read. He’d merely changed the names of things. This isn’t “inspiration”. I offered the advice that he develop his magic system a bit further until it was unique to his own story and not a logo swap of the successful author’s work.
To summarize, writing a story is like cooking. Maybe you like someone else’s recipe, but you want to create something all your own. Take one or two ingredients, or cooking instructions, or whatever, and make your own dish.
The world is full of questions. Some are difficult and cause political division or economic strife. Other questions are easier and not as important like is vanilla a better ice-cream flavour than chocolate? (I think it is, by the way).
As a writer, I try to ask these questions and go deeper and deeper until I have a story idea. For example, after listening to a podcast, I learned about the United States Freedom of Information Act. The act basically allows citizens to request information from the government that would normally have been kept secret were it not for the act. I got to thinking, what if a government was required to have NO secrets? What if a government was forced to make available any and all information all the time? Then, what if that government became corrupt over the years but by that point, people had already fallen into a complete and total trust of their government?
Ask questions about everything that’s meaningful, or controversial for you, or just plain interesting to you. Doing so will likely cause you to find more questions and before long, you’ve got a great premise or a great character or a great setting. Asking questions, even if they’re random and crazy and unrelated, can really help a writer begin to generate inspiration that may turn into a great story.
Who is McKay Mertz?
McKay has always loved books. He’s a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson, J.K. Rowling (obviously), Michael Crichton, John Grisham, and many others.
McKay grew up in Springville, Utah where he swam competitively year-round, took piano and art lessons, and read every sci-fi and fantasy book he could get his hands on. After graduating high school, he spent two years in Santiago, Chile serving the people and falling in love with the country. After returning to the States he married his wife Jessica and they’re currently living in Provo, Utah where McKay is finishing his Personal Financial Planning degree at Utah Valley University. Reincarnate is McKay’s first published novel.