I recently went to the Idaho State Historical Museum. I remembered some exhibits from previous trips, but a display on former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg caught my eye. Had this been here before? I have no idea.
The story inside the case was vivid — on December 30, 1905, Steunenberg was killed by a bomb placed on his gate. Bits of aged, twisted metal from the bomb rested under the glass. What had it looked like, hot from the explosion? Professional hit man Harry Orchard was arrested days later. Three men associated with Western Federation of Miners, believed to be Orchard’s employers, were kidnapped from Colorado and brought to Idaho for trial. Abundant legal drama followed.
This story has been tumbling through my head. What were these people’s real motivations? What really happened? There are a hundred different stories that could be written about this incident — indeed, as I utilized Google to check the date and names, each article gave a slightly different version of events, casting different characters as the heroes.
One trip to a museum, a hundred story ideas. It seems like ideas for stories are everywhere — in oddly-written ads, in the news, in articles about scientific discoveries, in things my children say. It seems like the only time I don’t have an idea for a new story is when I’ve just finished a project and need a new idea.
So, some time ago, I started keeping a file of just ideas. I’ve added the Steunenberg trial there. Maybe I’ll never use it. But, when I finish a project, that idea — and a hundred others — will be waiting, put up like jars on a shelf.
Perhaps the best thing about an idea file is being able to mix two ideas together — I find fiction works best when there’s multiple things happening. For example, a journey to recover lost treasure by itself is mildly interesting; so is a middle-aged hobbit with furry feet. Put them both in the same book, and something magical happens.
Having an idea file is one of my favorite writing tools. It means I always have something new to write. It means when I have something that’s not-quite-exciting yet — like a treasure hunt — I can scroll through my ideas and find that middle-aged hobbit the story needs before it can get started.
What about you? How do you find and organize ideas?