- Life experiences. I don't mean literally tell your life story, but in my current book series, some of the things that happen are based on personal experience. For instance, the main character has a disastrous university interview, which actually happened to me (though not under the same circumstances). And the trauma of being stranded overnight in a minibus after getting caught in a blizzard in the Lake District was so scarring, I had to use it in a book! Now I need to write a story set in a jungle with killer bees...
- Other books/films. Not plagiarism, but there's no harm in taking certain aspects of a book, such as the atmosphere or setting, and writing a completely different story. Plus, as I know from researching my dissertation, stories in totally different genres can actually have the same story arc, so it's good to look at a variety of different books or films to see how the author handles the story, maintains tension etc.
- Look at other books of the same genre - and think about how you could do it differently. This can be a good way to make sure your book is different from others out there, and it's why it's a good idea to read other genres, too (a lot of writers don't read books in their genre whilst writing for fear of subconsciously taking on other writers' styles. Personally, I don't see the harm in this, but that's probably because I've learnt how to recognise when I'm taking on another writer's voice and can hopefully stop myself doing it by now!)
- Listen to other people's stories about strange things that have happened to them. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction! Half the anecdotes I've heard at university are bizarre enough that I probably couldn't use them in a book for fear that the reader would say 'That could never happen!' (my creative writing seminar group were having an interesting discussion about this a few days ago!)
- Dreams - a lot of great works of literature were actually inspired by dreams, so if you're lucky enough to remember an interesting one, it's a good idea to write it down.I have friends who have very strange, vivid dreams, which would make great stories!
That's all I can think of for now! Happy writing :)