Here are 7 solid places you can mine for great stories, guaranteed:
I’m stay away from modern fiction or biographies, because you need to purchase the rights to those, and if you have the money and resources for that you already have your story!
1. Project Gutenberg
This is where you’ll find those great classics from the ages, all in the public domain. You might not know it, but many movies “borrow” plot points or entire plots from these stories. There is a wealth of genres to choose from, and in any size: short stories, plays or full-length novels. You can spend a lifetime digging through this material.
2. The Local library or Book Store
Is your local library still relevant? Well, in many countries there are countless local authors and stories that are not under copyright. There is no centralized database for them. E.g., if I want to read the works for Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore, my best bet is my local library.
The library also provides a distraction-free environment for reading, taking down notes and thinking. You don’t get books or silence in a coffee shop. And you don’t have to buy coffee to sit in a library for the entire day.
Why read newspapers when you have the Internet? First of all, newspapers are still localized, which means you’ll find stories of people and places you actually have access to. If you’re in a major city you might find some local news on the Internet, but there are many people still living in rural areas. I still find great stories about interesting people in the newspaper that click-bait websites will never hear about.
A newspaper can tell you what’s happening and alert you to interesting people and events. Even if you prefer the Internet, the reporters of these newspapers will cover more ground than you can do yourself, so how can spending a few minutes parsing through a newspaper be a bad thing?
4. Mythology, Fairy Tales and Folklore
E.g., Mahabaratha is one of the great epics of history, the longest epic poem ever written. There are hordes of personalities, sub stories and subplots. You can make a thousand movies with just this one epic. Every culture has its own unique stories, tales and folklore. Some are even in the form of music.
Study philosophy, mythology and folklore, because here are stories, ideas and events that have stood the test of time and have been deemed worthy enough to pass down the ages.
5. Talk to People
If you want modern day stories, you can talk to people. You don’t have to be a psychiatrist but you can join a club or local group that lets you meet an eclectic mix of individuals. Or just visit the market, or the mall.
Make friends, buy them coffee, and listen carefully. Stories are everywhere. Your own friends and family, and their friends and family, have thousands of collective stories that can fill endless pages of screenplay. So if you’re not comfortable talking to strangers, then talk to the people you know. If you start out with the assumption you know everything, your stories will be devoid of real life. Why do you think most television and movies are bland and uninspiring? Their writers and directors just didn’t dig deep enough.
6. The Internet
The problem with the Internet is you are given what you search, so you have to be real careful about the echo chamber effect. But, frankly, in today’s world there is no better and more convenient tool out there. I use two Google apps – Google Alerts and Google News.
You can set up Google alerts daily or weekly to get information on any subject. The same with Google News. So if you have a genre and some ideas, you can set up an alert to be notified of any stories pertaining to specifically those ideas. It might help you fire up some neurons to get that extra spark that can turn your script from average to Google good.
7. The Coffee Shop, or Bus Stop, or any Public Place in the shade
Observe people. Observe them laughing, talking, fighting, or just spending time on their mobile phones. Don’t ogle or stare, or you might get into trouble. I personally prefer walking up to somebody interesting and talking to him or her. I’m not comfortable spying on people, but seriously, as a filmmaker, you need to learn how to observe people’s mannerisms. It’s part of your job.
If you found this useful check out more interesting videos like this in my filmmaking playlist: