Stuck for what to write about? Try this.

People watching

People often ask where I get my ideas from, but as a writer it isn’t always the entire storyline that’s my focus. Just like many other writers I’m a people watcher, an observer of human behaviour – yes,  I’m downright nosey.

This is all well and good for character studies, so that I can create well-rounded protagonists or villains, but what about the objects and locations my star cast interact with? What does the stage-set look like? Paying attention to the incidental things in life is vital when writing a longer piece – in fact, when writing any piece of fiction.

 Red British telephone boxBy now you’ve been on this page a few seconds, and I’m sure that you’re far more interested in the photo of the classic British red telephone box, than anything I’m writing. When I came across this telephone box while driving through the small village of Dockenfield, Surrey, it completely captured my attention, which is why I had to stop and photograph it.

Firstly, it’s not really a telephone box any more, is it? I mean, it doesn’t contain a phone, the mobile phone have done away with public call boxes. It’s now the home to a life-saving piece of equipment, a defibrillator. Over the past fewDefibrillator years the NHS and other health organisations, such as the British Heart Foundation, have rolled out this new initiative to have defibrillators in as many places as possible. These green and white boxes are starting to appear on the side of village halls, in corner shops and, as you can see, in disused telephone boxes. What a fabulous and ingenious idea.

Books in Telephone Box The second thing you’ll notice is that our telephone box is also being used as a lending library for unwanted books. It’s a swap shop. None of the books were tatty and I had the impression that it was well frequented. But, let’s have a closer look at those books, because that’s where the real story lay.

At the top of the pile we have a book entitled ‘Let’s get Divorced!’ Wow! I can hardly believe there is such a book. In bold letters we can clearly see a Jackie Collins novel, ‘Lady Boss’, but sandwiched between the two we catch a glimpse of ‘Natural Causes.’ The other one that really caught my eye is ‘Blind Fury’ by Lynda la Plante. I don’t have to know what any of these novels are about in order to start creating my own story.

This one visual prompt has created so many ideas for me. I can use it as a quirky detail in a novel, or I can use this telephone box as a central device.

Here are a few writing prompt ideas for you to try out

  • Two people meet at the telephone box when they go to select a book, become close friends or lovers.
  • A woman rushes to grab the defibrillator, sees the title ‘Let’s get Divorced!’ recognises her husband’s handwriting in the book, so doesn’t hurry home with the life-saving equipment.
  • The innocent looking books are used to pass on secret messages in a spy thriller.
  • The books are left by a husband and wife who can’t bear talking to each other. The first threat starts with the title ‘Natural Causes,’ and the defibrillator has gone missing.
  • A woman regularly swaps books at the box. She suspects her husband is having an affair and someone starts to leave meaningful titles, such as ‘Lady Boss,’ to help her work out the name of his lover.

For any of these writing prompts you can add your own book titles to build your story. You can change the setting from rural village to a bustling city. You can have a string of red telephone boxes across the country. Simply by stopping and looking I’ve come up with a vast amount of material that I can use in my work.

So, next time you’re driving or walking, look at your surroundings. Pay attention to the detail, because you never know what treasure is right in front of you.

Write a comment and let me know what quirky object you’ve seen recently that’s triggered ideas for your stories. I’d love to hear from you.

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