Whenever the subject of my books comes up in conversation, people always ask me, “Where do you get your ideas?” Since I don’t want to come off as a complete dunce, I refrain from giving them the truthful answer, “Duh, I don’t know.” That’s not to say things just pop into my head unbidden. The truth is that ideas for stories are everywhere. Here are a few that have given me leads on plots and characters.
The past. I once rode racehorses. I exercised them for a racing stable and rode in races at the local track. It was a very long time ago, but I still have vivid memories of the experience. I know enough about horses and horse racing to use it as a backdrop for my first mystery, Dangerous Turf. I recalled people, events and even horses from my past and thought about what might have happened if a murder occurred in that setting. A good deal of the plot came from asking myself, “What would have happened if …”
People. Every writer’s life is filled with people. Every writer’s past is littered with relationships, both healthy and unhealthy, with those people. Writers can recreate events involving people from their pasts, revisit old joys and hurts, and use the experiences as a basis for fiction plots and characters. A word of caution: remember that friends and relatives will be reading your work. Ask yourself what their reaction will be if your characters resemble them a little too closely.
Locations. My newest novel, Death in Trout Fork, takes place in a tiny fishing hamlet in Colorado. The setting was inspired by an actual place not 50 miles from my home. My husband and I were riding our bikes in the area and stopped for lunch at the little café. As I sat there watching the patrons and enjoying the scenery, I asked myself, “What kind of people live here? Who stops here? Where are they going and what kind of secrets do they have?”
Using locations to inspire you involves more than zipping along at 70 mph, or stopping for an hour or so, during which time you are on your smart phone. It involves being still, breathing in the atmosphere, studying the faces of strangers, listening to conversations, and letting your imagination run wild.
Where do I get my ideas? They’re all around me.