Writing Exercise: Real Life Inspiration

Widely used piece of stock art from the internet (found 12 uses and no attribution)

“Where do you get your ideas?” FAQ #1 of writers. 

Everywhere. Reading books, the watching the news, walking down the street, head voices which won’t shut up, Facebook …

The challenge is turning a real-life event into a fictional piece. Real-life isn’t neat. There is no defined beginning, middle, and end, no inciting event, rising action, and resolution. At least not in a neat narrative package, bow-tied with theme and meaning.

WRITING EXERCISE: The writing challenge for today is to convert a real-life event, NOT YOURS, into a fictional story. Scroll through your Facebook or other social media feed. (Not on social media? Look at today’s news.) Choose a small event, not a life changing one like cancer or marriage, but more like “ate at my favorite restaurant and got the rude waiter” or “stuck in traffic waiting for the geese to cross the road”. Create a flash of at least 200 words.


At some point I need to write “The Help”. The basis for this eventual flash came from a sibling’s post. The weekend had been bad with everyone a bit sick, but only for one day. Dad got to return to work; mom, who is nursing, stayed home with the toddler and baby. Three days later the post comes 

“Nothing like an intermittently vomiting toddler to keep you on your toes.
It also keeps you trapped in the house. Plans cancelled, again.

I guess I’ve got plenty to time to research new washing machines, since ours just broke.”

After a flash of sympathy, I have to admit, I laughed a little at the wrench life threw into the works. Cleaning up vomit and no washing machine is a bad combo. I need to write something about that. Scrolling through the comments I discovered the poor toddler had vomited seven times that day. The broken washing machine left an inch of water in the laundry room. Sibling was having a very bad – but fiction-worthy – day.

I have a fictional couple, Joe and Cheryl, with a toddler and baby. These two are not based on my sibling and sib’s spouse – I started writing the Joe-Cheryl show (as I call it in my head) four years ago, long before my sibling had a toddler and a nursing baby. I often used them, Joe & Cheryl, to recreate real-life occurrences I have seen when working taxes at Walmart; “It’s Dirty” is exactly what a toddler said during checkout walking away from money on the floor, leaving a flabbergasted mother behind.

The challenge is the Joe-Cheryl show has certain rules in my head (1) loving couple and functional family unit, (2) must be humorous, and most importantly (3) deals a verbal play, some aspect of language or interpretation based on words: “Inside voice“, “Memory of a Lifetime“, and “Eat Half” are just some of the examples.

Making a sick kid, broken washer, and flooded laundry room smile-worthy would take a bit of doing but possible. My problem is none of those are verbal plays. Then I remember a meme about a guy explaining how he is not “helping his wife”. Perfect!

Smash all this together in my head: the meme, Joe-Cheryl and their rules, and my sibling’s very bad-but-we-will-laugh-about-it-when-it’s-over day. Oh, and this past weekend I was at a function with a teething babe-in-arms. The mother had to carry-jiggle the baby all day. Yeah, need to add that. Torture my characters like a good writer. (Even comic relief characters can be tortured.)

From four different things, “The Help” emerges.  (someday)

“Where do you get your ideas?” Everywhere.