Here's a recent example. I was driving on a major road in our area and was stopped at a stoplight. A motorcycle pulled up on my left. It stopped at the light and sat there, engine revving. It was a big, black Harley with a big biker guy on it. He was all in black leather with a black helmet, big bushy beard, long ponytail, huge black boots, dark sunglasses, and the black leather gloves with the holes for knuckles and fingers. The classic biker. But while I was checking out his classic look, I noticed on his right wrist between the leather jacket cuff and the glove there was a thin pink and white bracelet. It was one of those bracelets where each plastic bead has a letter on it. The letters were dark blue and spelled out W-O-O-D-Y.
Then the light changed and he rumbled off down the road. I reached for my ever-present pad and pen and scribbled "WOODY biker bracelet" as I pulled away from the light (Don't try this at home!) Later when I had the little scrap of paper back at my desk, I started thinking about it using that simple three step process.
When I LOOKED I saw the Woody bracelet. Now I asked myself, "WHY?" Why would the big biker guy have a little pink and white bracelet? The final step is to kick your imagination into gear and begin and try to answer the "Why?" with some "MAYBES." Here are some recent ones some elementary students came up with for this scene:
"Maybe his little daughter gave it to him and his name is Woody. He misses her because she is big now."
"Maybe his friend Woody had cancer and he wears it to remember his friend."
"Maybe his father gave it to him when he was little."
"Maybe he likes Toy Story and Woody is his favorite character and he watches it everyday after work."
"Maybe he has a dog named Woody that he loves."
"Maybe his daughter gave it to him a long time ago, but she ran away, and he is driving everywhere trying to find her."
All of these "Maybes" conjure up characters and possible stories in my head. Looking and listening, asking why, and jotting down some maybes is one way to get an idea for a story. Inspiration is definitely out there all around us. Probably at the next traffic light.