Why Encyclopedias are the Ultimate Story Starters

Every now and again, we need a spark of creativity to push us beyond the writer’s block.  Today, guest writer and author Jade Varden is here to share her go-to resource for getting the old imagination running.

Even the most famous and well-read authors have trouble explaining where their inspiration comes from. It’s one of those things that just happens. Sure, some writers might go through a weird routine of eating only clams for a week or standing on their head to shake ideas loose, but you just can’t force inspiration to come. You can, however, use story starters to get yourself in the right frame of mind to be much more receptive to it.

It’s All Been Done

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again now: whatever you want to write about, it’s been done. It’s very likely that Shakespeare already wrote about it, and if not him then one of those ancient Greek guys. And usually, they both wrote about it. The objective of any author is not to write something that’s been totally unseen. It’s to write something from a brand-new perspective. Instead of giving me Romeo and Juliet through one of the lover’s eyes, let me see the secret story of Juliet’s maid, or her fiancé, or even the priest with all the connections to illegal substances. I’ve always been intrigued by him.

Forget about writing an original plot; instead, tell it to me in an unusual way. When you’re stumped for ideas, embrace that fact that it’s all been done before and go directly to the source for the best possible story starters: the encyclopedia.

 Aardvark – Zoology

Ideas Spark
Image Courtesy: StuartMiles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yes, I’m talking about that dusty set of books on the shelf that’s still missing Ja – Ju. It’s full of all the best ideas you could ever want, because history itself is the richest tapestry of stories you’re going to find anywhere. Encyclopedias document history in little snippets and snatches, and they were made to tickle the writer’s fancy.

Here’s what you have to do: pick a letter, any letter. Either pluck the book from the shelf or click on the appropriate character in the online encyclopedia (it won’t give you the same satisfaction), and just start skimming. When something catches your eye, stop. Look. Carry on in this fashion until something really gets you, so much so that you find yourself searching for more and more information.

Cultivating Ideas

Do that research, and an idea might start to flower in your mind. History is chock-full of amazing anecdotes that could inspire any number of stories. The Lost Colony in Roanoke, the mysteries of Stonehenge, those crazy heads on Easter Island – plant these seeds in your mind, and you could end up writing anything from a tear-soaked romance to a thrilling science fiction adventure.

You may even borrow a story from history and apply it to today, or to a story that takes place in the future. You can be inspired by an historical event without keeping it in its own context – that’s the joy of being a writer. Encyclopedias are the ultimate story starters, because they’re full of stories that are waiting to be written.

About the Author

Jade Varden writes young adult novels for teen readers. When she’s not crafting mysteries in her books, Jade also blogs practical writing tips for authors who self-publish. Jade currently makes her home in Louisville, Kentucky, where she enjoys reading and reviewing indie books by other self-published authors. Follow her on Twitter @JadeVarden. Visit Jade’s blog for reviews, writing tips, self-publishing advice and everything else you ever wanted to know about reading and writing books.