Most of the writers I admire say that a story has to be inspired by character. You can also start a story from a situation and write something more plot-driven. But what are the things that inspire you? Can you start a story from anything else?
For me, Alice Munro is one of the greatest living authors. Even though her writing isn't about three-headed polar bears, they are strange works. I read one story, "Open Secrets" where I thought to myself: How did she get away with this?
It wasn't a bad story. In fact, it is one of my favorite stories by her. But, it was so unusual that I felt like she had broken some major storytelling rule. (Without ruining the story, "Open Secrets" is a murder mystery, and the in the end, the mystery is solved in a very strange way.)
It seemed like Alice was cheating and still making it work. How did she do it?
I read an essay that she had written where she said something that revealed her technique. She talked about what inspired her to write "Open Secrets." It was something incredibly mundane, something similar to seeing soap bubbles in the kitchen sink. She had written a story inspired by soap bubbles! Then she said something that was truly helpful to me. She said that the longer she writes, the more successful she is as keeping the story focused on that thing that inspires her. And it can be anything. That's what made this story so unusual. It wasn't focused on character or conflict. Instead, somehow, this murder mystery was about soap bubbles. (They weren't actually soap bubbles, but I don't want to give away too much.)
This has really opened up new avenues of storytelling for me. I get inspired by everything. I used to discard a lot of these points of inspiration because I couldn't fathom how a story could be built around it. Now, I'm more open to experiencing the world and writing based on anything that excites me. And, in the end, isn't this the heart of making art? Don't we want to portray what inspires us instead of showing that we are good at following rules? I used to tuck the non-character driven inspirations somewhere in the background of my story. I wanted those things (such as the soap bubbles) in the piece for my own satisfaction, but I also didn't want to write something that wasn't "a story". Now I dare to place my inspiration in the foreground. I write to explore my inspiration rather than to construct a story just to contain it.