Monday, March 25, 2024

How Does a Writer Find Stories

by Ane Mulligan @AneMulligan

In a Facebook group I'm in, one of the members asked how we all find our stories. It's revealed some interesting ways. 

Places and Ways to Look for the Stories We Write

Overheard conversations: Okay, let's be honest. Writers eavesdrop. Restaurants are a great place to listen, too. That's how the premise for Chapel Springs Revival came about. I overheard an unusual conversation and thought, "If this person feels this way, there are more who do too."

Real life: Chapel Springs Survival was sparked by my eldest son, who called me one day and told me to look at the email he just sent. Then he hung up. I looked. And what I saw changed our lives forever. Can you say 21st Century mail order bride? And I told him for not telling me beforehand, it was going in a book. And it did. 

Another Chapel Springs book, Home to Chapel Springs, also came out of real life. At the age of 62, I found my birth sisters. I decided to use that as the basis for a story. I had to change a lot, but it worked. You can read about my discovery here

It doesn't take a lot to spark an idea. However, be careful. You will have to change a whole lot. The daughter-in-law from Chapel Springs Survival had to become an antagonist for the story to not be cliché. She gave her permission, and in the author's note, I told the real story. She's the best thing that ever happened to our son. 

A friend suggested I try a historical novel set in the Great Depression. The idea for the town and grocery came from my childhood summers spent in a tiny rural town with my cousins, who owned a small grocery store. That idea became In High Cotton.

Newspaper articles: I once read an article about the last Confederate War widow interviewed. It was a great story idea, so I sent it to a friend who would be better suited to write the story than I would. 

Other articles could have a subject that sparks an idea for a story, and maybe the subject is merely a small part of hte story. The article could be about candy making, but a sentence catches your eye, mentioning a chemical reaction. Voila! The basis for a murder mystery or how the murder happened.

Places: I love old houses. They spark my creative imagination like nothing else. Even in a contemporary story, old houses reveal secrets. And I save photos of them. I can stare at one and before long, a story idea is born. When the tiny house craze hit HGTV, I was fascinated. Then some friends and I decided to do a novella collection. Each story had to have a tiny house in it. That book was Coming Home.

A short story: I recently wrote a short story for my newsletter subscribers for Christmas. I heard back from several readers, and they all wanted more of the characters and the story. I hadn't planned that, but suddenly, a cozy mystery was born. I'm in the midst of writing it. We'll see how it comes out. 

Objects: I keep a muse jar and fill it with interesting objects I find. Every so often, I dump it out on my desk and study them. A skeleton key: what is it to? Does the door hide a secret? Is it to a chest, long forgotten? Perhaps it opens a diary. A single earring. Where's its mate? Who wore it? How did she lose one? Is it on a garden path somewhere? What happened to its owner?

Story ideas are all around us. All we have to do is look, listen, and ask. Once something catches my interest, I start asking questions. Asking questions sparks my imagination to go deeper, ask more questions, keep seeking until the story or "what if?" appears. 

Most of all, stories seem to find me. So, how do YOU find your stories most often?


Ane Mulligan lives life from a director’s chair, both in theatre and at her desk, creating novels. Entranced with story by age three, at five, she saw PETER PAN onstage and was struck with a fever from which she never recovered—stage fever. One day, her passions collided, and an award-winning, bestselling novelist immerged. She believes chocolate and coffee are two of the four major food groups and lives in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband and a rascally Rottweiler. Find Ane on her website, Amazon Author page, Facebook, Instagram,Pinterest, The Write Conversation, and Blue Ridge Conference Blog.


  1. Stories find me, too, Ane. And often when I least expect them to. I often get ideas while I'm doing something ordinary, like cooking or taking a walk. Since you mentioned eavesdropping, I like to say that writing is the only profession where eavesdropping is not considered bad manners. :) Thanks for your wonderful post.

    1. Thank you! It's so fun how and when stories come, isn't it?

  2. I've found obituaries to be a rich source to find colorful characters and interesting plots. My smart phone's notes app is deep with names and ideas for future stories or poems. Great post, Ane.

    1. Ooh, that's another good one! Thank you for adding it!

  3. I loved this blog post. It reminded me of words of wisdom from a very special lady (Florence Littauer) who told me to always "be alert to life."

  4. Loved this blog post...reminds me of Florence Littauer who taught that we should always be "alert to life!"