Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Femme la Fentre--Virgilio-Guidi-1891-1984

“Where do your ideas come from?”

Writers frequently tag that question as the single most frustrating inquiry we get from non-writers. It’s frustrating because it’s nearly impossible to answer. We get ideas from everything. Getting ideas isn’t usually the problem for a writer…herding the ideas is.

Plot ideas from current events:

The local newspaper has given me plenty of inspiration as a mystery writer. There have been stories this past week in the paper that completely horrified me. These stories will not fit in with my cozy writing. But they can send your mind into a whole different, dark direction.

Plot ideas from others:

Sometimes other people unwittingly give you plot ideas. I’ve overheard bits of conversation that have really made me raise my eyebrows…and reach for a pen. This is an advantage of being a wallflower and sitting quietly in public places. As a mystery writer, I’m particularly interested in what makes people upset with each other. I’ve heard stories of people angry with coworkers, spouses, and family. Motives galore! I can dream these motives up…well, I could. But I don’t have the violent emotions that some people have. I’m usually pretty calm. When I’m around people experiencing these high-powered emotions, I do jot down notes after they’re gone.

Character ideas from people we come across: My favorite people to bump into at the store or at the bank are people who surprise me or make me smile. I was at church a couple of weeks ago and a very stern old lady with tightly coiled curls put her elderly husband down firmly in the pew ahead of me. “Now don’t move! Don’t talk to anyone! Stay put.” And she stomped off to join the rest of the choir. He immediately got up and started talking to people in another pew. “Ohhh…he’s gonna be in trouble,” said my son. The best part was when she went up the aisle with the choir in the processional (singing an ancient…maybe 17th century, solemn hymn) and her husband reached out to pinch her as she went by. Her face was priceless. I jotted it all down on my bulletin so I wouldn’t forget her expression.

Plot ideas from our own experiences: I don’t plan to write about myself. But there’s a little bit of me that goes into my protagonists—usually a bad part. I think writing down my shortcomings is good therapy in a way. Other people put a lot of themselves in a book.

Plot ideas from the world around us:

Plot ideas from music we hear. Plot ideas from something we see while we’re out running errands.

I pick up facial expressions, names, emotions, outfits, and settings when I’m on the go. It’s a constant stream of inspiration—bits and pieces of things to eventually make up a big picture.

Where do you get your ideas from?