That's the most obvious thing in the world to a writer, right? But until the maniacal urge to write fiction hit me, I managed to wander through most days without examining every person I met or everything I saw for a story or book idea. Now, though, it's like they're in the air, floating around at all times, waiting to be noticed.
I've learned through years of feature writing that everybody has a story. Some are more fascinating than others, but with any person, if you dig deep enough or happen to hit the right nerve, the story will come pouring out. With fiction, though, I get to make the story up - a fascinating concept in and of itself for a journalist (someone who's used to substantiating or attributing every single fact). And the newest part of this phenomenon for me has been creating stories in my head around people I meet in real life.
Seeing someone in the grocery store and wondering, "What's his story?" Then walking around tossing items in my cart and working it out in my head. "He's the type of guy who lives _____, drives _____, probably does/doesn't/doesn't want to have kids, cheats/doesn't cheat on his wife, only eats meat, doesn't eat meat, yada, yada, yada."
I'm probably completely wrong, but that's the beauty of it - it doesn't matter. That person gave an impression, instigated an idea, and that idea was the launch pad for a good story. And some of those stories stick. They're the ones I jot down in my journal for future use. Others get fleeting play in my head, then forgotten. Or lost in translation ... sometimes an idea that seems amazing in the moment loses its impact on the page. And sometimes it's the littlest things that trigger an idea - not a person or a situation, but a phrase that jumps out at me, a song. I have a few random book titles scribbled in my journal, no plotlines attached, just titles.
For future use.
I often wonder, now that this writing bug has stung me, how it stings other people. Did you always know you wanted to write? Is it something you decided, like, as a career choice? Did you have an idea first and chew on it for a while before you started putting words on the page? Or did you sit and stare at a screen and brainstorm ideas for the Next Great Novel? Is it people who inspire you? Situations? What-if questions?
This topic is kind of a dangerous one, right? I've read lots of blog posts and tweets from writers complaining about the fact that their neighbors/friends/relatives fear they might someday, somehow turn up as a character in a book. So is it true? Is anyone with the fortune or misfortune of living with or around a writer at risk of being fictionalized and put on public display? Of. Course. Not.
And yeah, maybe. Not that they'd ever know it.
The truth of the matter is, real life is strange, but fiction is stranger. And making stuff up is way more fun than telling the truth.