Anything your senses offer as inspiration for story is always a good thing, but I find next to music that art, texture and other tactile material objects often sow the seeds of what grow into my stories.
Our blogpal Raine Weaver mentioned fortune cookies in her SFC post here about the need for simplification. I save all my fortunes, and sometimes use them sometimes in my altered art/philosophy journals, like this one:
Pulling out that old journal made me wonder if you could tell a story entirely in fortune cookie fortunes. I sat at the table after dinner with the four hundred or so slips I've collected over the years and started arranging them like you do magnetic poetry. I'd have to come up with original fortunes of my own, but they could work as dialogue for an oracle, I think (I'm still mulling it over.)
A few months ago I was looking through some quilt magazines and spotted a photo of this incredible piece by German artist Britta Ankenbauer*:
I don't know why but seeing this art quilt hit me like a sledgehammer. I responded to this piece on a dozen levels, including a storytelling perspective, which had me jotting down an outline of the city that I saw in the art. That grew into a country, and then a planet, and ultimately became one of the settings for my final StarDoc novel.
I've always wanted to write a piece of fiction about the elements in this photo I took a couple of years ago:
This is more abstract and definitely more personal (the real story behind the image is over on the photoblog here.) I'm not ready to write this one yet, so it's still percolating in the back of my head. When I do I suspect the story will include a minor war between gardeners and artists.
Most of the time we writers maintain a pretty healthy stock of story seeds -- if they were veggies and flowers I could supply a couple hundred farms on my own -- but I still think it's a good idea to keep yourself open to the random chance of inspiration. When you respond to something personally, you know if you can convert that energy and passion into words that it's going to shine through in the work, and better yet, no other writer will have anything like the beauty you grow.
*To see more of Britta Ankenabauer's amazing textile art, visit her web site here.