Writing Tip: Seven Ways Into a Story

Claire Handscombe


If you want to write, sometimes the hardest thing is getting past that blank page. Where do you start? What do you write about? How do you find your characters?

Inspired by Joanna Rossiter‘s post on getting creative, here are some of my ideas for finding my way into a story.

1. Pick up a book, any book. Open it and random, close your eyes, point to a sentence. Use that sentence as the beginning of a story.

2. The next time you play Scrabble or Words With Friends, take a picture of the board. Use all of these words in a story.

3. Go to a café or an airport and people watch. Write down snatches of dialogue you overhear. Let your imagination wander. Who are these people? What are they doing? Where are they going? Do they even like the person they’re with?

4. Sit on a train and look out of the window. (You’ll need to put your phone away for this to work – yes, I know. It’s scary.) Watch the countryside go by. Allow yourself to think and daydream. Allow your mind to wander. Allow the dialogue and noises around you on the train to wash over you. Then when you are ready, start scribbling.

5. Take a song or a poem you like, or one you find intriguing, or can’t get out of your head. Write about the circumstances that led up to the song. And what happened afterwards?

6. Buy a “word-a-day” calendar. Every day, brainstorm the word. Do not allow yourself to stop until you have written down ten, or fifteen, or twenty words that are, for you at least, in some way linked to the word (or linked the word that is linked to the word – you know the drill). In all likelihood, nothing will come of it then and there, but you are creating interesting pathways for your mind to wander down and some of those ideas might start to simmer into something.

7. Think of an object that has great significance to you. If you can pick it up, do so. Feel the weight of in your hands. Close your eyes and call to mind any memories associated with it. Now thing of another way in which this object could be significant to another person, and write around that.

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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

Washington, DC

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