A question that arises when a non-writer meets a writer: where do you get your ideas? I have been asked this question many times, and like most writers, I shrug and admit I do not really know. That is not entirely true; it’s just that the way ideas formulate is many-faceted and can take several forms. To pigeon-hole the exact process can be difficult.
Often, a kernel of an idea will strike from an unknown origin, usually raw without much else to go with it. When I wrote the story, The Accomplice (published in Women’s World in their mini-mystery section), the seed was simply, “a double-cross.” Soon after, I developed the main character, Deke, a petty thief who is hired by an antiquities trader to “steal” a valuable chalice and collect the insurance money. That is all I had when I sat down to write the story.
Once seizing on an idea for The Accomplice, I played the What If game; what if Deke sees a double-cross coming—how would he prevent it? I knew Deke was the protagonist from the outset, which gave me half of the puzzle, leaving only the identify of the antagonist. That was simple, the collector.
Having my lead and his adversary in place, now came the questions of setting, plot, and the other workings of the story. But here, I am talking about getting ideas, not explaining how the story developed—that will come in a later post. (You can read the published story here.)
What is important is the What If game: what if Roxanne’s ill-fated marriage to Franklin ends in a murder right after (or during) the ceremony? What if Franklin is killed in a gangland style assassination? What if Franklin, a CPA, had connections and clients Roxanne knew nothing about despite being his secretary? What if . . . . ? You see what I mean; asking What If starts the mind working on possibilities, ideas that may become the kernel for a story, but maybe not. Write the ideas down anyway, because even if the original thought does not develop into a story as planned, it may prove useful in a completely disconnected way, perhaps a subordinate plot twist in another story not yet conceived.
I have dozens—if not hundreds—of snippets, and every once in a while I look them over with fresh eyes. On more than one occasion, I have used these notes to strengthen and add depth to an entirely different story.
Back to how a writer gets ideas. Sometimes a potential title flickers through my mind, a character’s name or trait, or just a concept. The idea for my fantasy novel, The Returning, began with an answer to What If an immortal, plagued by endless lives without purpose, grew weary of the lives he is forced to endure? (I had already made the assumption that rather than living in one body for endless generations, my character returned to a new body at the death of the current person he possessed.) From there ideas swept upon me, each adding depth and prospect to the initial idea of an immortal yearning to be dead.
A current story I am developing started with a character’s name, Whimsy Woo, and from there came the title, The Untold Story of Whimsy Woo.
The idea for an undeveloped story started with a title: Turmoil in Paradise.
These are examples of how ideas come to me, but only a short list. Sometimes ideas have to be (or simply are) prompted by the world around us. Newspapers, magazines, internet posts and even books can germinate an idea into a story. A couple years ago, I read of a grandma who was a master jewel thief. What made the story unique is that she would dress in fine clothes, wear exquisite jewelry (that which she had previously stolen) and shop at busy stores where she asked to see certain pieces; distracting the clerks, she would then slip an expensive piece in her sequined handbag, politely thank the clerk, and leave the store without making a purchase. She did this over a hundred times, if memory serves. The What if to this particular scenario sparks an avalanche of story ideas.
Ideas avail themselves at awkward times and places, so be sure you have a pen and notebook with you at all times. Ideas have come to me in the shower, while shopping, interacting with others (or just people-watching), and a host of other times, many of them inconvenient. Be ready for those sparks, and a funny thing happens—the sparks become more frequent, clearer and ready to add to other pieces of the puzzle that is your growing story.
Now that ideas are popping up, go write them down, massage them, nestle with them beneath a shady oak, and walk the path that is your character’s journey.
A Note: Next week’s blog, The Writer’s Three Hats — A Review will be posted on Wednesday rather than Saturday because my daughter is getting married over the weekend.
Now, go write.
This Week’s Quote:
“Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable.” Francis Bacon