Here’s another instalment from the “it’s not hard to find story ideas” file.
The scene: A major retail complex in a major city, reasonably late at night. A bored retail assistant is attending to tedious tasks, waiting for a customer. Two security guards wander past and she asks, “Have there been any more bomb threats lately?” They chuckle and don’t really answer. She mumbles under her breath, “I’d so like to put a bomb under this place.” She sighs. Goes back to pricing items.
I wander closer and see her name tag, Eleanor.
Me: “That’s an unusual name. I don’t see many Eleanor’s these days.”
She: Sigh. “It’s not after the Beatles’ song or President Roosevelt’s wife. My friends get Ellie or Elle and I got Eleanor because my parents just liked it.”
From where I’m sitting, those two exchanges are enough to build a character for a story. In reality, she’s a teenager with an unrewarding job making a thoughtless, throwaway comment. In a story, she could be anything. What if she meant the bomb threat? What if she’d been making the bomb threats? What’s her back story? Does she resent her parents and wish she had a different name? What does she secretly call herself?
Perhaps I think too much. I do find names to be a good starting point for conversations and characters. And, as I’ve said many times here, ideas for stories are all around. Watch and listen.