Three Things To Do When You Don’t Have Any Stories To Tell

2014 Artwork No Stories To Tell Sketch

Although there are a lot of reasons why I’ve had my worst case of writer’s block in years (eg: the last time I even wrote a novella was over a year ago and it’s been nearly a year since I made a finished narrative comic too !), one of them is that I don’t really have any stories to tell.

Of course, the classic piece of annoying advice people can give when you say this is “Oh, get some life experience“. But, as someone who isn’t really particularly interested in travelling and isn’t particularly socially comfortable either, this advice is pretty much useless for me.

Not only that, I already have life experience – I’ve lived for just over two and a half decades and I’m pretty sure that this counts as “life experience” or at least experience of life. So, yeah, that piece of advice annoys the hell out of me.

So, I thought that I’d see if I could think up any other pieces of basic advice that might come in handy if you don’t have any stories to tell. I haven’t really tried any of these out yet, but I’m writing this article as much for myself as I am for you – so I may or may not try out some of this advice in the future if I ever get back into writing fiction or making comics.

(I should also add a quick disclaimer that I am not a copyright lawyer and that nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice)

So, let’s get started:

1) Use the public domain: This is a rather well-used tactic (and you’ve probably seen it in countless films before, without even knowing it), but one way to get a quick story is to re-tell an old public domain story in a new and interesting way. This also saves you the Herculean labour of having to think up an entirely new plot and cast of characters if you don’t have any ideas whatsoever.

But, be sure to check that the story that you’re copying/adapting/changing is actually in the public domain! In Europe, this generally means that the author of the story died over seventy years ago and, as such, the copyright has expired.

The only major European exception to this that I can think of is J.M.Barrie’s “Peter Pan”, which is under perpetual copyright in the UK (by a special act of parliament). And possibly the works of some French writers and artists who have served and/or died in various wars, since they are granted a copyright extension under French law.

However, copyright limits vary from country to country. For example, the copyright laws in America are pretty weird and fairly inconsistent – eg: something from the 1950s/60s may be in the public domain in America if the copyright wasn’t renewed, but something from the mid-late 1920s/early 1930s (*cough* Disney *cough*) might still be copyrighted.

So, be sure to do your research before you decide to use a public domain story as the basis for your own story.

2) Use your life: As I kind of implied earlier, everyone already has life experience. If you’re reading this, then this means that you are alive and have lived long enough to learn how to read – therefore you have life experience.

Yes, you might not have travelled the world or worked in any strange jobs, but you have life experience. I’m willing to bet that, in however many years you’ve been alive for, at least one “interesting” thing has happened that you can use as the starting point for a story.

But, if you don’t feel like turning your life into a story directly – then take a step back and look at your life thematically. Look at the underlying themes of the “dramatic” parts of your life and see if you can find a way to tell a story which uses those themes without actually using anything from your life.

For example, if you’ve had a rather bad break-up or something like that, then the underlying theme would probably be something like “betrayal”.

Yes, the theme or themes that you find in your own life won’t give you a ready-made story, but it’ll at least point you in the right direction.

3) Look at your favourite stories: Although you shouldn’t directly copy your favourite stories (unless they’re in the public domain), it’s perfectly ok to be inspired by them.

What does this mean? Well, it means that you take a look at a few of your favourite stories and you work out exactly what makes them your favourite stories.

Then, once you’ve worked that out – you try to think of a way to use these things in a story which looks nothing like the stories that have inspired you (or is at least different enough from your favourite stories not to be considered plagiarism). It’s that simple.

Again, this won’t give you a ready-made story but it will certainly help to point you in the right direction.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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