Friday, July 13, 2012

Inspiration For A Story

My Grandmother

Writers find inspiration for stories in strange places sometimes. My maternal grandmother has been the inspiration for several stories I've written. Most are true stories so have been in the creative non-fiction category. Grandma died when I was only twelve, so my memories of her are condensed into those dozen years.

But one inspiration turned into historical fiction for kids. It wasn't Grandma herself who inspired the story. Instead, a pretty little china dish with red roses and green vines in the center provided the notion for writing Just Plain Sarah Jane.

The dish had been in my mother's china cabinet from my childhood on. When Mom was getting ready to move to North Carolina in her 80's, I helped her sift and sort through her possessions. When we came to the small dish, she told me the story of how her mother had come to own something so lovely.

One day in the early 1900's, Grandma stopped by the general store in the small coal mining town where she lived. The owner greeted her by saying "Hello Elizabeth. I hear you got married." Grandma confirmed that it was true. She and Alex had married. The general store owner told her he'd like to give her a wedding gift. He looked around the many items in his store. Rather than giving her something practical, he selected the small, china dish with the roses in the center, scalloped edges shaded in blue. Grandma treasured that dish, passed it on to her daughter and then it came to me. In the family of a coal miner, I'm guessing there were very few things of beauty. Money bought the necessities with none left over for pretty things.

After the dish came into my keeping, I kept it on a table where I could see and enjoy it on a daily basis. One day, I brought it with me to the desk where I wrote. I typed a detailed description of the dish and thought about Grandma going into that general store, oh so long ago. Before I knew it, my fingers flew and a story for middle grade children took shape. I revised it a few times and read it to my critique group. They gave it a thumbs up.

The story was published once several years ago, and yesterday, it was featured as the story of the day at Knowonder! magazine online. You can read it here. If you read it and like it, click on the stars at the end to vote for the story.

Writers use a number of things as inspiration for a story. Family members, places, events, illnesses, tragedies, weddings, christenings--those are only a few. It's up to the writer to see them and use them.

What have you used to inspire a story you've written?


  1. What a lovely story! It makes me see your grandmother and think about the inspirations in my own writing.
    Theresa Hupp

  2. Such a sweet post, and a great reminder that writers find inspiration all around them. My mother and I wrote our novel based on our own family history. My biggest regret is that I didn't spend more time picking the brain of my great-grandmother who passed away in my early 30s. I had that long to gather her stories (not many people these days know their great-grandmother that long), and I didn't. We lived far apart and I had three kids in five years before she passed, but those are just excuses.

    I'm going to hop over and read your story!

  3. Ah! I never thought of looking for story ideas in the objects that I have saved or collected over the years. Your story reminds me of the butterfly tea cups that were giving to me by my mother's older sister (Aunt Chrys). Now, I'm going to take a peek at your story for more inspiration.