Found stories

Sometimes when I’m stuck for a story idea, I remember a trick from a series of books I enjoyed as a child. The books are Hugh Lofting’s stories of Dr Dolittle and his “family” of animal friends (and the occasional human being).

Doctor Dolittle turns out his pockets

In several places in the books when the doctor and his companions are killing time, someone is sure to ask the doctor for a story. His usual response is that he can’t think of one, but then he turns out his pockets, which are full of all sorts of things that he’s picked up here and there over time. There’s always something he can tell a story about.

It’s a good technique, and you don’t have to fill your pockets with odds and ends. Just look around and let your eye light on something. If you’re at home you might look at the pictures on your walls or the things on your shelves. You might look at the furniture or animals in your room, or what you can see out of the window.

If you’re out and about, why not look at the range and juxtaposition of items you can find in charity shops (not to mention the people you may see there). Or look at window displays, advertisements, product placement (or misplacement), and the people passing by.

Ask yourself: Do these things have a story to tell me? What does this combination of objects have to say? What is this thing, why does it look this way and who used it? Who threw or gave it away, and why? Who is this person? What have they bought or what are they going to buy?

Write the story and try to keep it short. Treat it as a flash fiction exercise. Limit yourself to 100 words, 250 words, 500 words tops. Here are some photos that might give you some inspiration.

A note on the pictures

The drawing of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting comes from Doctor Dolittle’s Post Office (published 1923). Lofting died in 1947, so his works are now out of copyright.

The other pictures are all my own from a series I took around Gothenburg, Sweden 2012-2014, excepting the last (Blue and white) which I took just now.

If you liked the above you may also like Gail’s Pensive on writing inspired by Department Stores, Retail. Or perhaps the inspiration of letter writing that Michael shared in To Whom it May Concern.


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