How to Turn Your Favorite Weird Topic Into a Story
We’ve all got our strange hobbies, weird interests, and in-depth knowledge of obscure topics. Mine would be disasters, especially building fires and plane crashes, Robin Hood, fossils, monsters, and knitting/crochet. In our house, we call those “Dannye enrichment.” (It’s just like giving zoo elephants pumpkins to play with!) Our “enrichments” improve our lives by providing mental stimulation and sparking creativity—like writing! So here are some tips on turning your favorite topic into a story.
The Main Character: The obvious answer here is to give your MC a job that relates to your interest. Do you like rocks? Make her a geologist. Are you into cars? She’s a chauffeur, mechanic, or racer. Or you can make your interests into MC hobbies: maybe she goes rock hunting on the coast whenever she gets the chance, or likes small-town car shows. Maybe she’s obsessed with finding a certain mineral in a rare color, or saving up for her dream car. You can also get into the competence kink here: maybe she can identify every rock she sees or is a fabulous gemstone artist. Maybe she can restore an old car found in a barn to perfect condition. Or perhaps your character is just “introverted but willing to discuss ____.”
The Setting: It might seem like odd areas of interest would narrow setting choices, but they can actually be quite expansive. Do you love a particular style of 18th century art? Set your story in the time and place it was created, or in modern times in an art museum, antique mall, private gallery, or the studio of someone forging paintings. If you know a lot about coffee, you can put your story where the beans are grown, processed, sold, or enjoyed. Or you could create an alien world with the right conditions to produce anything you’re interested in, from ants to cheese to tornadoes. (That kind of sounds like a wild picnic.)
The Conflict: There are no topics without conflict, so there’s a lot to work with here. Shipwrecks, for example, have conflict between ship builders, owners, insurers, crew, captain, passengers, survivors, families, weather forecasters, journalists, and historians. Even with something not nearly so emotional, like knitting, people might argue over yarn sourcing or historical technique. And anyone who uses the internet knows people can get really upset about small details in their professions or favorite topics, even if outsiders might not think it really mattered. Or you can convert your conflict to crime: someone might steal a valuable object, research notes, recipe, design specs, or idea. I turned my interest in dam disasters into the sapphic superhero romance My Hero, which you can read on my website.
The Mystery: Weird areas of interest are great sources for mystery. Are you into historical trials? Make up your own, where modern historians are divided on the verdict. For epidemiology (study of diseases), write a patient who presents with bizarre symptoms. How about something more mundane, like homemade bread or indoor gardening? Well, both food and plants can be poisonous! It’s common to give one of your characters the same level of specialized knowledge you have, to take readers into the mystery (and possibly solve it). I used my interest in the Battle of Tollense as the main mystery in my queer vampire romance Tollense, which you can read on my website.
The cause of death: This is one of the most fun ways to turn your interest into a story: how could you kill someone with your hobby? I’m just going to let you run with that one.
The tragic backstory: I personally could write a character who’s survived a disaster, since that’s one of my interests. In fact, knowledge about anything that’s dangerous would work well here. But you can use less obvious topics too: maybe your character lost a treasured collection, or had their scientific theory ridiculed. Maybe they got their dream job in a certain field, but it didn’t work out. Or maybe they traveled back in time and caused some event that later became somebody’s favorite weird topic!
Using your favorite areas of interest in writing will bring passion to the page, and make your research much more enjoyable. And perhaps you’ll even lead readers into finding a new fascination themselves! That’s partly the idea behind my Weird Wednesday blog, where you can read about my weird favorite topics and get writing prompts.