What Pissed You Off Today?
Use Your Life to Build Amazing Stories

A quick technique for story ideas that write themselves

So what made you swear under your breath today? 

What had you gritting your teeth?  Or did something amazing happen?  How did you feel about that, right in the moment?  Did a quiet moment of happiness occur and you actually recognized it before it passed?  How did that feel?

Millions of writing advice columns tell you to write it out.  Journal.  Develop story ideas from it.

But they’re missing a vital step.

You have to boil it down first.

You parked beside the last remaining parking meter and rushed to the nearest store for change to plug into it, but the parking inspector was already writing a ticket when you got back to your car and wouldn’t tear it up.  You lost your temper, so she gave you the maximum fine.

Note:  For some of you, this scenario might require you to time travel back a decade to when your city used parking meters and inspectors with some discretionary leeway.   But let’s go with it for now.

What lies at the heart of this trouble? 

  • Are you hot headed and always getting into trouble?
  • Or is your partner to blame for not refilling the coin cup in the car?

Take it even deeper.  What’s the emotional heart of this story?

  • You lost your temper because life feels so overwhelming right now.
  • Your partner is sweet, but thoughtless and it hurts people in bigger ways than a parking fine.

Then strip out all identifying information

Now bring the core of the idea out from your life.  Extract and anonymize it.

  • A character who is utterly overwhelmed by life and reactions with anger because he doesn’t know how to deal with it.
  • A character whose thoughtlessness causes a major problem for someone they love.

Now ask the two questions that will turn these core ideas into story concepts.

For a fully expanded explanation on how to use these two concept development questions, see here

For now, the two questions are:

  • What is the worst thing that could happen to this character?
  • Who would suffer most in this situation?

Apply both to your core ideas:

  • The overwhelmed character could find themselves in an apocalypse situation
  • Or they could find themselves in a crisis where they absolutely cannot lose their temper because the consequences would be disastrous – the loss of custody of a child, say.
  • Or they do lose their temper and lose their child and must find a way forward from this rock bottom pit.
  • The thoughtless person might find themselves in a situation where the only way to survive is by making sure everyone else survives with them.

And the second question:

  • To make them suffer the most when they lose custody of their child, the hot-headed character should not just love their child, but their entire self-worth should be wrapped up in the idea that they are a good single parent.

And now you have a story concept

A hot-headed single parent in a contemporary city, who believes they are the only suitable person to raise their child, loses a custody battle because they lose their temper at the wrong moment, and must learn how to rebuild their life without their son.

Let it simmer for a bit

Put the concept away for a while—add it to your growing collection of story concepts.  A few days, a week or more, come back to it and play with the elements, develop the story a bit more.  If the story doesn’t yet bite you, move onto another one.  Keep toying with concepts, until you have one you feel compelled to write.

Then write the story.

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