A Writer's Treasure Chest by Paul Bishop

A Writer's Treasure Chest by Paul BishopEvery writer should have a treasure chest—a place to store golden nuggets of brilliant ideas, keeping them from being forgotten and giving them a place to mature. Ideas are very different from stories. Stories have a beginning a middle and an end. If a story doesn’t have all three of those elements, it’s a story fragment—not a story. To become a story, an idea often needs to be strung together with other seemingly unrelated ideas before sparking the inspiration to become a fully formed story.

For my idea treasure chest, I use cheap composition books—those stiff cover, lined-paged, 9X7 notebooks I used in college (back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth). Over the years, I’ve collected a bookshelf’s worth of these invaluable resources. Whenever I am beginning a new writing project of any kind, I plunder these notebooks for inspiration.

First let me explain what kind of ideas I put in my treasure chest. Recently, I was driving to a writing conference while listening to Weekend Edition on my local NPR station. Before the first hour of the show was finished, I had to pull over and scribble down four ideas sparked by the profiles and interviews to which I’d been listening (you can’t consider yourself a writer if you don’t keep a pen and paper handy at all times). I later transcribed these scribbled notes into my current composition book.

*What were these ideas? Here are the notes I wrote down:

*Food Fraud…Billion-dollar industry…Food fingerprints…

*A teen molested by her father is forced to pose as dead…Father obsessed with True Crime magazines…Recreates murder scenes using daughter as the corpse…

*Faded sit-com star—one of the first Asians to be portrayed in a positive manner despite her soft around the edges body and plain face)—finds she still has an impact on modern youth…Letters sent long after the show is over…Weave in story of how protagonist made her character positive by manipulating the show’s writers…

*Italian judge fights organized crime by taking away the children of Mafia families and placing them in foster homes to break the cycle of inherited violence…Some mothers beg the judge to take their children…Many of the fathers in jail…Patriarchal animosity…Judge must be stopped before he destroys the balance of power…

I later added a fifth note for the day after reading a newspaper article:

*Failure rate of tasers used by police departments. Jack Cover, the NASA scientist who invented the taser, named the stun gun after his favorite science fiction hero—Tom Swift…TASER: Tomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle…

None of these ideas pertain to any current work I have in progress. They might never have anything to do with anything I ever write—but they are there if I need them.

And now some words from, Alice In Wonderland…

Alice laughed. “There's no use trying,” she said. ‘One can't believe impossible things.'

“I daresay you haven't had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Why did I choose those lines from Alice and the Queen? Because far too many beginning writers are fearful of having their ideas stolen. What they don’t realize is most established writers give away more ideas before breakfast than a beginning writer comes up with in a month.

By the way, feel free to steal any of the above ideas.


Because I like you.

Actually, I don’t even know you, so that can’t really be the reason. I may like you if we ever become acquainted, but sharing my ideas with you is not dependent on my liking you or not. What I can tell you is even if we took the same idea and began writing at the same time, we would produce totally different stories.

Synesthesia (a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway) played a very important part in my novel Lie Catchers. However, the idea of synesthesia had been in my writer’s treasure chest for over ten years. When I flipped through my notebooks in preparation for writing Lie Catchers, I came across my entry on synesthesia and immediately knew I’d found the perfect place to incorporate the idea into a whole story.

My notebooks are filled with off the wall ideas. Many of them I may never use, but I know I’ll find a way of using many of the others in future stories. Often two or three ideas from my notebooks end up in one story—usually a novel. Other times, one idea from my notebooks may inspire a short story years after I first jotted it down. Life and our subconscious have a way of giving ideas proper context at the proper time.

What’s in your writer’s notebook?

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