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Find good story material by being an observer

If you’ve been reading this blog awhile, you may have seen me mention the term, “good material.” Good material is how I describe any incident, detail, or drama I’ve observed or experienced that might find its way into my writing.

Stories that ring true contain happy and sad events, as well as the mundane and terrifying, because compelling stories are distinguished by conflict and drama.

We’re surrounded by good material but it doesn’t do any good if we don’t recognize and note it.

How do you know what good material is? I like to say you know it when you see it. It might be as simple as an interesting bumper sticker that could later turn up on the car of a character.

On a deeper level it could be an interaction between two people observed at Starbucks or an emotional, political maneuver between colleagues in your workplace. Sometimes, it’s very personal. An event you experience yourself: a conversation with an elderly parent or child, a heartbreaking loss, an illness. Big life changes. Good material is about observing the human condition.

Good material for me may be different than it is for you. Be alert. See what resonates. It’s a feeling in the pit of your stomach or a flutter in your chest.

Good material ends up in poems, short stories, novels, and essays. Sometimes its value is just that it changes us and makes us more empathetic to the world and, in turn, our characters and readers. These observations help us write with authority.

As writers, we should use all our life experiences to inform our writing – happy and heartbreaking. Everything is a gift.

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