At one point, three years ago, before I started this full time writing gig, someone asked me how I came up with ideas for what I write. It was a great question, but honestly, not one I could answer. I didn’t know where they came from other than a dream or two and I was pretty sure if I told anyone I “dreamed it” they would have thought me nuts.
Skip ahead three years and it’s obvious I am nuts so it’s okay if I “dreamed it”. Ha.
In reality, though, I don’t dream most of my novel ideas. They come to me in bits and parts and eventually gather together into somewhat of a cohesive whole.
Take my latest one. The origin of it comes from my own family history. My great-grandmother was kidnapped by her father who was a Pinkerton Detective when she was only 2 years old and raised in boarding houses where he stayed as he traveled around the country doing his job. I’ve known that story for as long as I can remember and, since no one knew why it happened, it’s always been a mystery. I’ve also known that I wanted to write it into a novel.
My thinking has always been to write it from the little girls perspective. My great grandmother was one pretty messed up adult, emotionally scarred among other things. But I could never really decide on what would drive the story line.
Now I love a good detective story … novel, movie, tv show, you name it. And I’ve written a couple of things with detectives in them. And it suddenly struck me the other night how most detectives are the “good” guy in their stories. They help people out, they have a moral compass, they’re kind of straight and narrow type people, they’re respected, they’re good at what they do. They make the perfect character for someone to love and admire.
So I took that characterization and plopped it into the middle of my story and this whole outline grew from it. I had a two hour long conversation about it while hiking, another brief discussion with my son (my ever faithful and vigilant plot guru), and spent 20 minutes doing my brief outlining process. Plot twists, emotional conflict, supporting characters, rising action, climax, and denouement all just fell into place. And I am happy as a clam with it.
Not all ideas come that way or fall into place so easily, however. Sometimes I just write a story and let it sit. Maybe it’s just a piece about a character or something about a setting that intrigued me. And it just remains dormant for some time until one day I’ll add a new piece to it.
Like I heard about a haunted castle up in New York state and did some research on it. As an architect buildings often spark my interest. I rattled off an opening scene or two at the time but it has remained parked in the file ever since. But my mind hasn’t quit working on it. Every so often I pop back in to the research and jot down any new ideas I come across. Eventually the whole idea will either die or come together into something formed and possible.
For me, ideas come from all kinds of places initially. People I meet, situations I find myself in, buildings I see, … some start with a setting, some with a character, some with a situation. Two have come from a theme. I’ve never used a prompt for any of them, at least not from someone else.
My biggest problem with ideas and writing is making them stop. I tend to have too many ideas for the number of hands and the amount of time I have to pursue them. It’s crazy. But then so am I … the brain never stops.