That's right, everything around you is material for a story, a piece of a story, a snippit of dialogue, a description. When students ask me, 'Where do you get your ideas?' I tell them, 'The same place you get yours.' You just have to pay attention and recognize an idea when it hits you in the head.
I'll give you an example - without going into too much detail. I was surfing around the internet, looking for a hotel in one of my favourite, small English towns. Not that I could afford to stay there, you understand, but I have a great imagination. I could imagine staying there. I found a lovely hotel that listed some local tourist sights, one of which had a very interesting history, involving a colourful and highly disreputable character. 'I've been to that place!' I thought. In fact I had a photo of myself in the jail cell where that disreputable character had finally been locked up (over 300 years ago). In the photo I'm sitting on his prison bed - very uncomfortable.
'What if?' I said to myself (lots of stories begin with 'what if? and also 'why not?') 'What if I wrote a story in which this man was one of the background characters?' In other words, the book wouldn't be about him, but he'd show up now and then and somehow influence the plot?
In three weeks I'd written 18,000 words! I now have 23,000 words. I've never actually written so quickly, but don't worry, I know that not every one of those words is brilliant. That's what re-reading, editing and re-writing are all about - not to mention proof-reading. Writing isn't ALL fun and games. Anyway, I hope a publisher likes my story as much as I do, and if that happens I'll keep you all informed.
So here's your exercise. Take a character, any character, from history. Let's see now - there's Florence Nightingale, George Washington, Louis Riel, Amy Johnson (look them all up if you don't know them!) And how about Charlie Chaplin? Now, just imagine a situation where you'd least expect them to show up, and plonk them down, right in the middle of your story. A little girl is at the beach and sees Charlie Chaplin walking his dog. A shepherd boy is watching his flock when Amy Johnson flies her plane onto his field. A kid is lost and in danger, and Flo Nightingale comes by and helps him hide - and maybe gives him a bit of medical attention.
I know, those are all ideas I could use (perhaps I will), but you know what? There are plenty more where they came from. Enjoy writing!