How To Find Random Things To Add To Your Story

2013 Artwork Hectograph sketch

This might not apply to every type of story, but it can often be fun to include random, eccentric or unusual things (or facts) in your story either as a central part of the plot or as something to make your settings and descriptions more interesting. Not only do unusual things make your story more distinctive and memorable, they also make your readers feel curious. And, of course, if your readers are curious, then they’re probably going to keep reading your story.

Naturally, in keeping with this theme, the tone and style of this article will be perhaps more unusual than usual, but hopefully it is still readable. I don’t know why, but I feel like writing this article in a slightly formal and old-fashioned style.

Likewise, coming up with an idea for sci-fi, horror and/or thriller story which revolves around an interesting theory, social trend or technological development can be an interesting way of starting a story. However, these kinds of stories tend to age fairly badly and can be unintentionally hilarious a few decades after they’ve been written. If you want a good example, look at any pretty much any sci-fi story (apart from William Gibson’s excellent “Neuromancer”) from the 1980s and 1990s which involves the internet in some way or another.

It’s incredibly easy to add unusual and interesting things to your story, but the difficult part can be finding these interesting things. Since they are, by definition, unusual and obscure, then they might not be that easy to find.

Of course, unlike the 1980s and 1990s sci-fi writers I mentioned earlier, you have an internet connection (unless you’re reading a printout or a saved copy of this article, of course. In which case, I salute your dedication. Especially if your saved copy was delivered via a sneakernet).

The internet is an absolute goldmine when it comes to useless, but fascinating, information, but you probably knew this already. I mean, you’re reading this article, aren’t you?

If you’re searching for unusual things to put into your story then your first port of call should, of course, be Wikipedia. Just start reading an article and click on any links which look interesting. You’d be surprised at where you can end up after a few minutes of randomly clicking interesting links on Wikipedia. I think that the technical term for this is “taking a Wiki walk”.

Anyway, Wikipedia is one of the closest things most people have to Aleks Krotoski’s concept/prototype of a “Serendipity Engine“.

For example, the random thing which inspired this article was something called the Hectograph – it’s a totally bizarre old-fashioned device for copying documents which I discovered after reading a news article about an old type of dry transfer printing called “Letraset” (the word sounded amusingly strange).

Anyway, I looked “Letraset” up on Wikipedia and, after clicking through a whole series of random links to things like Pangrams, Etaoin Shrdlu and a famous speech in Ancient Rome, I discovered the Hectograph. I think that I’ll probably end up including it in one of my comics or stories sometimes.

Of course, there are plenty of other interesting places on the internet where you can find unusual things. These include search engines, Youtube and a website filled with random lists called “Cracked” [warning: this site is addictive and occasionally mildly NSFW]. But Wikipedia is probably the safest (compared to what you can find if you use a search engine carelessly) and it’s also the most likely to lead you in very different and very interesting directions fairly quickly too.

But, of course, people were adding strange things to stories long before the internet was invented, so there are a few other interesting sources of strange facts and things:

– Newspapers: Just look out for more unusual “filler” articles and articles about history or science. Of course, you can also find these on news sites too.

– Magazines: Science magazines are a brilliant source of unusual facts and so is “Reader’s Digest” (if you’re really old-fashioned).

I’d mention “Bizarre” magazine too, but I try to keep this site at least vaguely suitable for a general readership. Still, if you live in the UK and you’re fairly open-minded and/or interesting, then you can probably find a copy of it in most large newsagents (although, given all of the recent stuff about right-wing left-wing people campaigning for the censorship of more risqué general interest/lifestyle magazines, buy it while you still can).

– Books of strange facts: These are probably slightly less popular than they were a decade or two ago, but new ones are still produced and you can also find them in second-hand shops and charity shops too. “New Scientist” magazine tends to produce a few of these types of books too.

– TV Shows: Documentaries and news shows are the obvious choice. But, if you live in the UK, then be sure to watch a few episodes of “QI” too (either on the BBC or on “Dave”). Although, of course, you’ve probably heard of this program anyway.

Ok, I’ve probably stated the obvious here, but I think that it needs stating. After all, if you want to include random and unusual things in your stories, then you have to go looking for them. And, most importantly, you have to be curious.


Anyway, I hope that this article was useful 🙂 Or at least comprehensible.

3 comments on “How To Find Random Things To Add To Your Story

  1. […] following on from one of my earlier articles, I’ve found a way to include a hectograph in one of my comics […]

  2. […] prints, I hadn’t really read about him in any detail until a couple of days ago when I was randomly clicking interesting links on Wikipedia. Anyway, as soon as I started reading the article about him, I was absolutely fascinated. As well […]

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