The truth is neither can I. I’m very bad at making up a storyline from scratch. Give me an interesting plot, event or character & I’ll write it up for you, but develop it completely from my own questionable intellect – very unlikely.
I usually get ideas from true stories & then modify a bit, or even merge a few real events or people into one. Newspaper clippings are a good source of inspiration, especially if you read the actual story & then play a “what if?” game i.e. what if the male character was female, or rich instead of poor etc. How would the people around them react? Changing the dynamics of a real situation can be the basis for a good fiction story.
Another technique that works for me is to take a real story & change the POV character. For example a newspaper reports on a kidnapping. All attention is focused on the victim, his wife & the kidnapper. What about the kidnapper’s wife, how must she feel? What is the reaction from the kidnappers colleagues, friends etc? Explore what drove him to it, he may well be a victim as well in some way.
An exercise we did in an online writers group a while ago helped me a lot. We were told to tell the story of Little Red Riding Hood from a perspective other than hers, the grandmother, the woodcutter or even the wolf. Personally I find the wolf most interesting. What if he was human & the story was moved to a different setting & he kidnaps the grandmother instead of eating her. What if the woodcutter was a janitor instead who discovers & frees the old lady…….you get the idea? There are a dozen potential fictional scenarios out of this story, the same with a newspaper item.
I’m not suggesting taking a newspaper story & simply re-telling it. That is unimaginative & borders on plagiarism. Use the story as a spark to light a fire in your creative imagination. Let the fire run wild for a while & then tame it into a structured story.
Visual stimulation can also help……but more about that next week.