Monday, August 15, 2016

Where Do You Get Your Story Ideas? Would You Believe... Walmart?

It sounds like a snarky response, but it's amazing the story ideas you can gain from observing people while they shop... and sneaking a peek at what's in their shopping carts.

I've said before that working in retail has many benefits for a writer. The main one, of course, is being able to meet and interact with people that wouldn't normally cross my path. But there are days when actual interaction--making eye contact and speaking to people--is not part of the plan (the plan being picking up a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread and getting out of the store at the end of my shift with killing myself or anyone else!) That's when I do most of my story idea gathering in the check out line (where, no matter the time of day, I will ALWAYS have a lot of time to spend!)

This past week, I saw the following stories in shopping carts:

A woman with a basket loaded with hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, beer, sodas, and all the fixings and extras for a big gathering. It wasn't a holiday weekend, so I bet on a family reunion or some family party. Then I see the giant bottle of Tylenol and the economy-sized bottle of antacids. They pair perfectly with the "death row" expression on her face. There's a story there. You can bet it's family drama... especially given the fact that her purchase could easily fill two carts, but she's alone so she manages to make do with one cart.

A young woman, very attractive, unloads a basket that contains--expensive nail polish (the kind that costs about $13 a bottle) and a new manicure set; an entire celebrity name-brand makeup set; expensive body wash and lotion; expensive shampoo; and a new pair of lacy thong panties and matching bra. She stops herself from biting her nails as she watches the total climb. It seems apparent that she's used to buying the most economical store brands, but she wants to impress someone. A real-life Cinderella who has to be her own fairy godmother...?

A young man with a toddler girl in the cart seat and another baby in the carrier he has strapped on stares helplessly at the assortment of baby food jars and formula and diapers in his basket. The only "grown up" food in the basket is pasta and frozen pizza. He looks shell-shocked. The little girl is wearing mismatched clothing and her ponytails are sloppy and she softly whines, "I want Mommy." Where's Mommy? The only thing certain is that her absence is new and raw... though it's unclear whether she chose to be gone or not.

Of course, not every cart has a story. Sometimes people just need stuff. At least, that's what I was hoping when I saw the lady with a giant box of cat litter, a toilet plunger, and four bottles of Crown Royal in her basket....
Shop at your own risk when there is a writer around....


  1. I now expect a short story on that last basket.

  2. I find stories as I do my morning walk with the dog. Amazing vignettes.
    Author of Murder...A Way to Lose Weight