Mumbai, 2001. In the waiting room of a doctor's chamber with my 3 year old son, I was leafing through a woman's magazine. I've always enjoyed reading agony aunt columns and that day I read a letter by a young girl.
'I confessed about having sex before marriage to my husband during our honeymoon and now he wants a divorce. I love my husband but don't know how to repair the damage done by my honest blurting.'
The husband couldn't deal with the idea of having a non-virginal bride (sic!) so he left her in her parent's house. The distraught girl sought help from the agony aunt.
Her little note of cry for help stayed in my head. Soon after I wrote an article about Honesty in relationships for Femina, as I was a freelance writer those days. But that wasn't the end of it. The story lingered in my head. There was more than just an article in that note.
Gurgaon, 2015. HarperCollins signed me up for my debut book but told me that it can be published only a year later. So I had a year-long wait and what better way to pass time than to start with novel 2. The little agony note by an unknown anonymous girl, became the background of the story for my novel 2. Of course I added a lot of other elements to the story but that little note is the backbone. This article isn't about the story of my Novel 2; more on that later.
This post is about how to think of ideas for the story. Rather how I think of story ideas.
Ideas are everywhere. They are around us in the form of news item, a song or a dialogue in a film or maybe just a pretty or ugly picture you see on Instagram. You need to be the receptacle to catch it, store it and then use it. Like I read a tiny post in an agony aunt column which led to a novel. To give you another example… recently I saw an Instagram post by a friend. A picture and a word – hiraeth. It means a feeling of homesickness for a home which you can't return to, a home which maybe never was; the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past. Moment I saw this, a story idea flashed into my head. What about you? Just this word can trigger a story if you are ready.
Look at the News. The recent fiasco about FB sharing information about its users; for those of you who have a technical bent of mind; this can be used as a great story. The bank scams. An international event. The appearance of blood moon, disappearance of an aircraft, the story of a missing person who suddenly returns…if you look around, there are stories just waiting to be written.
In a different life I used to work on house journals for companies. For one of the companies I used to do a digest which had a column on Unsolved mysteries. Every issue I would write about an unsolved, unexplained event or case. I learnt about Crop Circles, Zodiac killers and etc. It was during research for this column that I came upon a website started by a man in some country, somewhere. The website was for those who have been abandoned by a loved one without any reason or explanation. What if your mom, dad, sibling, dear friend, lover or spouse just disappeared without a trace or a note or any explanation and then you found them again say after 20-30 years…what would you say to them? This website triggered a story idea which I hope to write someday.
Talk to your family members. There's a wealth of stories in most families; often very interesting ones, if only we care to listen. Ask your mom or granny or grandad to tell you about their childhood, their friends and you'll be surprised with the strange things and people they tell you about.
Chat with random strangers in the airport or metro or Uber-share or Ola-share. Don't bury your head in that mobile and talk to people. Be genuinely interested in them and their lives. I'd gone for property registration in Gurgaon. The registrar's office is hot, dusty and smelly place; hardly the place for inspiration to strike. I was seated next to a lady and we began chatting. I ignored the glares of my hubby who thinks I'm mad because I talk to anyone and everyone. She told me an amazing tale of how her pregnant mother escaped from Assam with her and the dead body of her father who was murdered by the insurgents. They lived in the tea gardens and her father was the GM. Do I need to tell you…this is a mind-blowing story just waiting to be written?
A little nugget about my novel 2. When I started to rework the earlier version, I used yet another news I'd heard a very long time ago. A young woman, in tattered rags, disheveled and clearly drugged was found loitering the streets of Mumbai. She was identified as a very well-known model who had been missing for few months. The news did the round of media glare for few days before dying out. But the sight of the young woman on TV screen; scared, scarred, trembling hands, stammering speech remained with me. It came back to me in Jan 2018 when I sat down to rework the earlier version of Novel 2.
If you keep your eyes and mind open, there'll never be a dearth of ideas. Catch the thought, the feeling and store them somewhere. In your mind or a folder in your laptop or the good old thoughts journal. You never know what will come handy when.
So get started and just Write-away!!