Undiscovered Stories

by Rosemary Bird-Hawkins

Humans are a story telling species. We fill our lives with stories and it is perhaps the writer’s gift to be able to discover where they are hidden and let them out to the light. As writers our memories may be the most important tool at our disposal. Not memories of times or places, not memories of fact, but memories of feelings, of senses, of atmosphere; whatever can help release these sensations can be invaluable to starting stories.

Discovered Stories

 'Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.'
Roald Dahl

Writers are often asked where their inspiration comes from and it’s hard to answer because who really knows? Ideas can be triggered by one obvious thing, or they build over time drip fed by the stimuli and distractions of the world we live in and the lives we lead.

Philip Pullman’s dæmons were inspired by paintings: Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine; Holbein’s A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling; and Tiepolo’s A Young Woman with a Macaw. His trilogy is not about any of those paintings, but they triggered something in him, they found a way to permeate into his imagination and then morph into an idea that wove into a story.

Numerous children’s stories spiral out from a central image, a creative touchstone that leads readers into the story world. An adventure begins in the back of a wardrobe, or a painting hanging on a wall; wish on a fifty pence piece and your wishes come true, turn a key in a cupboard and bring a plastic Indian to life. Defeat a hungry god with a leaf symbolising all the ‘days that could have been’. Draw characters out of their books and into your world. Your inspiration pieces might well become the focus of your story, or a motif for a character.

There are stories all around us...

We just have to look. Stories can be sparked from the simplest of things; a painting, a stone, a toy left behind...

Lady in the Shallows by Phil Bird

A lady steps across the shallows of a sea. She is outlandish, extraordinary. She holds her hands to her face. Is she crying? Who is she? Where is she going? What has happened to her?

A broken necklace is found on a mountain path. Its beads are black as night and silver as dawn. The clasp is broken as though it has been pulled apart, wrenched from someone’s neck. What is its story? Why does it lie there? Was it broken off in anger, in grief, was it stolen, or torn off to be left as a clue? Who wore it? Where are they now? Do they know it is missing?

Could the two connect? Is there a story here?

Story Starters

In my last feature, I told you a little about the creative writing courses that I run for children. I mentioned the need for collecting ideas and inspiration and I think these are a great way for any writer to re-energise their writing and discover new stories.


I have a stash of postcards that I keep around me because they offer so many possible stories; I couldn’t write them all, but I love the idea that they are there, waiting to be told. Try it yourself:

  • Collect together any interesting cards, pictures, posters and lay them all out.
  • Take a few moments to look at them and then pick up one that you feel most drawn to.
  • Place the card in the middle of blank sheet of paper and write down all the words/phrases which the postcard makes you think about, these could be factual or abstract.
  • Think of the image on the postcard as a moment in a story, a snapshot of a scene. Begin to write, describing the scene by trying to convey some of those elements that call out to you.
  • Now write what happens next, OR what had happened just before it.

Story objects

Lay out interesting objects (fans, boxes, jewellery, random odds and ends that you’ve stockpiled over the years).
  • Take a few moments to pick things up, try things on, smell things, listen.
  • Choose the object that you are most drawn to.
  • Find somewhere to write and, as before, write down key words/phrases that drew you to the object, and then write a description of the object trying to get this sense across.
  • Now answer the following questions:
                What is the object, or what could it be?
                Someone else used to own it – who?
                Why don’t they have it anymore?
                Where has it come from?
                Why would it be important in a story?
  • Write a scene which has your item being used in it.

The ideas which are conjured up can often be surprising!

Virtual inspiration

There’s no need to limit yourself to the physical. Sites such as Pinterest are a great way to browse for inspiration and create your own virtual pin board full of potential story starters. Images, ideas, photos, quotes, art, can all be shared; rippling out through an online collection of creative influence. See what connections you can make and what stories you could tell.

So to leave you with some prompts, take a look at the images throughout this feature, and choose which item you are most drawn to. See if you can discover a story lurking within it.

Rosemary Bird-Hawkins has an MA in Writing for Children from Winchester University and has been running creative workshops for children for ten years. She has worked for various publishers as well as freelancing as an editor. Rosie writes fantasy and dystopian fiction for children and hopes one day to be published. Until then she continues to seek out more stories, while encouraging others to explore their writing abilities. For more information on story prompts or her children's workshops, you can visit her blog.


  1. I really loved this article - very inspiring - especially now I have a reason to keep all those broken bits of jewellery I can never bear to throw away! Thanks Rosemary!

  2. Some excellent practical advice! I'm addicted to using Pinterest to find inspiration for my writing - potential characters, costumes, settings!

  3. You have so many ideas, Rosemary!
    Yes humans do love stories - what I notice about the creation of a story is how it's a puzzle as much as a work of the imagination. For instance, working out how to connect the lady dipping her toe with the necklace. - I love that.
    As much as your ideas it's the possibilities you suggest that are so inspiring.

  4. Somehow, many characters of films always find themselves stuck and pulled in great activities due to unexpected conditions. The same goes for many informal activities and for Unseen World: The Incan Sun, you within the part of this unwary visitor. News story starter


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