I love reading other people's blogs - mostly informational blogs: GalleyCat, ERECsite, Miss Snark, The Evil Editor
Sometimes, it'll be things like Forgotten New York, or the tidbits of obscure history from Cracked.com - interesting pieces of history and the human condition that may spark stories of my own, or introduce me to places that I can actually go visit and find out more about on my own.
Lately, most of my online reading has been personal blogs and anecdotes from complete strangers. It's as though a million characters have opened their windows in this immense apartment building, graciously allowing the peeping tom outside a peek into some pastiche of their life. More than allowing, I suppose. They set out the fine silver and china, for many, painting ideological portraits of memories. Others bring out the heavy metal posters and toss the mattress onto the floor (which you suspect was perfectly well made only moments ago) and sensationalize some event until it has all the believability of a morning talk show guest.
The ones that get my attention the best are a balance. They don't so much sugar coat events as find that soft spot that makes us still love crazy Uncle Jemmy (not a real person) even though he pours Bud Light over his corn flakes every morning. The trials and frightening parts of life are matter of fact, often responded to and written about with the wry humor of a survivor.
When writing fiction, it seems part of the difficulty is making the story compelling and human. Creating fully dimensional characters with strengths, weaknesses, talents and foibles. The more information you have to draw from, the easier this becomes. Writing convincing fiction is difficult from a vacuum.
Don't plagiarize, but do open your eyes and ears to all different kinds of stories, from all sorts of people. The only way to make your imaginary characters feel real, is to make them 'real'.