Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Where Ideas Come From

I can't speak for every writer/author, only from my own experience on the subject of where my story/book ideas come from.

I was bored yesterday so began writing a short story. The idea originated from my home life. My husband is a TV junkie- when he's not on the computer he's lying on the couch watching TV. He doesn't have a social life. He doesn't have any friends. He doesn't belong to any groups or clubs. His social isolation has grown since he's been unemployed despite my efforts to get him to go to the gym and get out of the house once in awhile. He lost his Dad and doesn't talk to his brother all that much.

When we eat dinner, I've noticed that his side of conversations is all movie and TV show related, and he talks as if the characters are real people he knows. It's kind of disturbing, and a little creepy how he has lost touch with reality, and TV has become his reality.

So, my story originated from that real life experience. It's about a woman around my age whose mother has passed away. Her parents had retired to Florida. Her father comes north for the funeral and he talks about all sorts of people and goings on. She's relieved he'll have friends when he returns to Florida.

Later she visits him during a four day weekend, hoping to meet his friends and make sure he's fine. At lunch, it begins to dawn on her that all his friends are TV characters from reality TV shows that he's become addicted to, and he really has limited contact with real people in his retirement community.

Other story ideas develop from a blurb I read in the newspaper or a magazine. Sometimes ideas blossom from something I see or hear at work, at home, in a store, or when I'm out in the community. Often though, I have no real clue where ideas come from. I can just sit down at the computer with nothing in mind and begin typing and the story creates itself as I go, more often than not taking strange twists and turns along the road.

A mechanical clock tower in town inspired a story that has, so far, been started four times, and I'm still not happy with the beginning, so my brain has been kicking around the idea of starting the story at the end and then going back to the beginning and seeing if that will work better for me.

Usually though it's that a character comes into my mind and begins telling me his or her story. The Archetypes novels began one night at the kitchen table when I was sitting across from Kelly. My daughter has always been different from her peers. I didn't park her in front of a TV or even let her listen to the radio when she was growing up. I chose movies and shows on DVD (many of them BBC programs) for her to watch. We listened to music on CD from many different cultures, but primarily Irish music, Italian music, South American music and Scottish/Gaelic music. We danced in the kitchen. We colored. We read together. We did projects and crafts. We had picnics at the airport and watched the planes come and go. We took road trips into the hilltowns and Berkshires to view the scenery. So- she is different from her peers who grew up watching TV and playing sports. She used my cellphone in high school, for emergencies. She didn't have a Gameboy or PlayStation until middle school. She had a massive library since infancy, and still loves books and will need a library when she buys her own home to shelf all her books. She got her first computer in 2006, her own cellphone in 2009 when she went off to college. She's that's where Amanda Pennington originated from, and Benjamin 'Beans' Carter (Rex). Amanda is burying her bioengineer/scientist/geneticist/doctor father and it strikes her that she is different, that her best friend Beans is different also...and that leads her to a discovery that rocks her world.

I just started writing the story without really knowing where it was going or what was going to happen. Every night after work I would sit down and write some more- and it linked itself to a short story called Crossing Swords about two powerful, wealthy families locked in a violent feud over their passion for collected ancient and antique bladed weapons. The son of one family and the daughter of the other fall in love and he's kidnapped, tortured and going to be murdered. Scarlett saves Thaddeus and they become fugitives from both their families. They eventually have a little boy they call Tiger Rex. Well...Scarlett and Thaddeus are Benjamin's parents...only they've been dead since he was a baby and he was raised by foster parents and the Rex name has been dropped, but he has some mementoes from the Rexes still, but he doesn't associate himself with the Rex family. Anyway- Amanda and Beans go on and have a son they name Tiger. So, the short got blended into the novel but only after the novel was started with no great plot or plan in just developed that way.

So sometimes an idea comes from a previous idea

I have always been more a listener and an observer than a talker. Words jump out at me, images stay with me. I draw on those words and images when I'm writing.

My characters are for the most part purely fictional. However, there are three characters who are taken directly from real life. My late button mentor friend who passed away at age 91 in 2015, began appearing as a character in short stories in late 2014 or early 2015. Pauline loved my holiday stories every Christmas and stories I shared with her, bringing her print copies off the computer when I visited her in South Windsor, CT, leaving them with her so she could enjoy them after our visits. She taught me and Kelly a lot about buttons, and gave us a lot of buttons from her collection (extras) to enhance our collections. She never wanted anything in return. The only thing I knew she might accept from me for all her generosity and kindness was literary immortality. I wrote her into a story called The Weeping Angel, which was the name of a bookshop in the story. She comes into the store to buy historical romance novels, something the real Pauline enjoyed reading. I wrote the story, dropped it off on Sunday and didn't say a word about what I'd done. Monday night I received a phone call from her- she was sort of laughing and crying at the same time when she asked, "I need to ask you something. Is that me? In the story, is that woman me?" and I had to confess, that yes, it was. I had been a little worried that she wouldn't like seeing herself fictionalized in a story, but she loved it! She was very touched and amused and thrilled.

I ended up writing a story called An Intangible Gift, for her as the time for her to think about hospice neared. I wanted to give her that gift- the gift of immortality and explain why, but I couldn't just sit down in her living room and say, this is my gift to you for all you've done for me as my surrogate Mom the past 13 years. In the story the character based on me visits her friend and brings her a story in which the character promises her aging friend literary immortality and tells her why. It is so she will never lose her, so she will hear her voice through the character in every story she writes her into and always feel close to her. She will keep her alive in these characters she creates based on her.

Pauline called me after reading An Intangible Gift to tell me thank you, that she was going to put this story in her safe deposit box because it meant so much to her.

I'm sort of rambling on here- but this is where story ideas come from, and it also demonstrates the power of words and what can be accomplished with them. Pauline passed from this life knowing that I would keep her spirit alive by creating characters based on her life, the stories she told me about growing up on a farm and everything she experienced in 91 years of life. She always had wonderful stories, like my grandfather had always had, too. Her voice will be speaking to me every time I write her into a story. The last time she appeared was in Christmas Cakes, a holiday story. She is there, and the house in the story is the house she lived in only set in a different town, but it is the house familiar to me where I visited her and was the recipient of her love and friendship for years.

Ideas come from outside and from within when you write. A writer draws from everything they ever have heard, seen and experienced. Bits and pieces are woven together to make new images and ideas. From them emerge new characters and stories. It's an ongoing process.

People ask- where do you get your ideas from? I reply from everywhere, everyone, and everything.
I am a processor of everything I experience and from all that input I produce stories and books by tapping into an internal engine called Imagination.


  1. I agree with you. Stories come everywhere. Everything around us can get us started on the creation of a story. All it takes is the opening up of our imagination and allowing it to lead us through the process.

  2. I truly get this Susan ... I can appreciate your observation of your surroundings. If we take the time to notice, there is so much to see right before our very eyes!