Where Do I Get My Ideas? Let Me Tell You….

As soon as people learn that I’m a writer, there are a couple of questions that I almost never fail to hear. Every writer who reads this is nodding his or her head. One question is particularly silly to me. I usually reply with a quip–that people take as a serious answer.

 

 

“I subscribe to Idea Monthly.”

They say, “Oh.”

 

“I close myself in a dark closet, chant a mantra, and don’t come out until a complete story has come to me.”

“Oh.”

 

“I remember everything everyone tells me and I use it.”

“Wow.”

 

“Little green men come to me and night and whisper plots in my ear.”

“Oh.”

 

“There’s this little warehouse outside Tulsa.”

“Cool.”

 

Seriously, writers get ideas just like everyone else does. Ideas just come to all of us. As writers, we learn to brainstorm and embellish on the original idea until it’s plausible. Many of my ideas come from hearing a song, watching a movie, reading a book, or from my research. Something unique or emotional will catch my attention, and I’ll think “what if?” Then I play with the notion until I turn it into a story. From the original concept, I develop the characters first. I ask what kind of person will fit this role or this scene or this setting? Then I create the other lead character with built in conflict and an opposing goal.

 

Here are a few examples:

 

— Heaven Can Wait originated by taking a girl who knew nothing of the outside world from a sequestered environment and flinging her into a completely alien culture. That theme still fascinates me, and I have more ideas for others.

 

— Rain Shadow developed from the desire to do a sequel to Heaven Can Wait, using a secondary character as the hero, and needing an exact opposite to pair him with. Thus the gun-toting Wild West character of Rain Shadow developed.

 

— Land of Dreams came from my fascination with and empathy for the children who rode the orphan trains, and, as a result of the many diaries I’d read. So many of the children suffered in their new environments nearly as much as they had on the streets of New York, often being sexually abused or used as servants, and many thinking they’d been adopted into families, only to find out years later that they hadn’t. I wanted to give some of those kids a good home. And Too Tall Thea was a character burning for a story and someone to love her.

 

— Saint or Sinner sprang from my passion for watching late night westerns. There’s an old black and white flick with Joanne Woodward where this guy comes back from the war and builds a church. She’s just a kid he tries to reform, but I thought…”What if this fellow had a life after death experience and came back a changed man…and there was a woman who didn’t believe he’d changed?”

 

— Badlands Bride actually started out because of a title I’d saved for years. The idea of having an unprepared reporter go west disguised as a mail-order bride popped into my head, and I decided to send her to the badlands and use that title. I dearly love to create the underdog characters. Hallie is desperate for her father’s approval and eager to forge her way in a man’s world.

I’m excited because Badlands Bride is being reissued as a special release with a new cover this month! If you missed this book in the past, this is your chance to get one, but it’s only available through eharlequin.  Order here while copies last: http://eharlequin.com/storeitem.html?iid=17109&cid=228

 

— A Husband By Any Other Name came from the Bible story of the prodigal son. One son runs away, squanders his inheritance and comes back to his father’s welcoming arms. The brother who stayed home and worked doesn’t think that’s too fair, even though he surely loved his brother. Seeing the father plan a feast and roast the fatted calf irks him. I further complicated that story by having the brother who stays home marry the fiancé of the brother who went away. Did I mention they are twins and he pretends to be the brother who went away?

 

— The Truth About Toby. I’ve always been a bit fascinated with dream interpretations, I guess. I had originally titled the book Dream A Little Dream For Me, because the hero is helping the heroine with precognitive dreams. Austin came to me first, a reclusive, tortured hero who simply wants to forget the horrors of his past. And for him I created Shaine, the woman he can’t resist, who needs him to remember it all.

 

— The Mistaken Widow is a historical version of the movie, Mrs. Winterbourne, where Ricky Lake pretends to be Brendan Frasier’s sister-in-law. As soon as I saw the film, I started picturing it in a historical scenario. My story has a bit more twists and turns, however.

 

— The Doctor’s Wife came from watching a talk show where the female guest told her story. She came from the “trash family” in a little town. I felt so sorry for her and her story was so sad that I sat and cried. Often when I’m moved by someone’s real life story, I want to write one that turns out better. It’s like I can fix the world one book at a time or something. The real person in this case was ridiculed and teased by the other children. Her family was so poor that she wore her brother’s underwear. Her mother gave birth to a couple of babies and made the daughter bury them. One particular time, she secretly gave the baby away. This was one of those reunion shows, and they brought out the sister whose life she had saved so many years ago, and they were reunited with hugs and tears. Bizarre story, eh? Once again truth is stranger than fiction. Well I changed all that and had the baby be my heroine’s and had her hide it to keep it safe. But that’s where the idea was conceived.

 

And on and on….

 

I’ve never found that warehouse outside Tulsa, so I do most of the dirty work on my own. Actually, coming up with the ideas is the fun part, the part that never gets dull. Carrying out the work is the hard part. There are a lot of people who call themselves writers. Many come up with ideas, but few actually do the work and get it all in publishable story form on paper.

 

Okay, so enough with the joking, I’m going to once and for all tell you where writers get their ideas. Are you ready?

 

Brownies.

 

If you don’t believe me, I have a blog to prove it: http://ideascomefrombrownies.blogspot.com/

 

Today I’m giving away a copy of my October anthology The Magic of Christmas! I’ll put the names of all the commenters in my cowboy hat and draw one to receive an advance copy.

 <— Order yours from amazon
 
Website | + posts

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Visit me on the web: http://www.cherylstjohn.net/
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62 thoughts on “Where Do I Get My Ideas? Let Me Tell You….”

  1. LOL…I could definitely go for some brownies. I’ve got ideas overflowing at the moment and not enough time to write them all. Probably about 30 different ones that all come from different things that I couldn’t necessarily pin-point. Last night I was sitting on the couch getting ready to watch Ghost Hunters and for some reason the name Lola came to mind, so I jotted it on a piece of paper and even wrote some questions behind it like “who are you?” “what’s your story?” “Tell it to me when you’re ready.”

    I have no idea who Lola is or why that urge to jot the name came, but I have a feeling that it- “SHE”- will eventually come forward and tell me. LOL

    The next four book series I plan to write (after I get through more revisions on my previous eight) is inspired by the four single brothers of the hero of the 4th book in the other series I just finished this year.

    I did want to ask you about Saint or Sinner and the movie you mentioned with Joanne Woodward…was that The Reformer and the Redhead? (if so- that’s one of my favorites!)

  2. Cheryl, How fun to read all the origins of story ideas. It always amazes me how easy it is to make our imaginations soar. smile Reading what inspired the books make me want to go out and read them even more.

    Thanks Mary for recommending this site. Its really nice.

  3. My BFF, *lizzie, you were here bright and early this morning — getting your P&P fix before you march off to feed the lucky kids at school! We still have a date for champagne and strawberries!

  4. I am intrigued about Lola, Taryn! You will have to share when she comes alive. I often sit with a botebook while I watch a movie, too. For one thing yu can get great names while the credits roll by. But I jot down what “worked” for me. I identify motivation and conflict. I will google that movie and try to find the title.

  5. Taryn, it’s called Count Three and Pray with an alternative US title The Calico Pony. Van Hefflin is the preacher man. I entered keywords in the google bar and came right up with it. I couldn’t live a day without google. Whatever did we used to do?

    I fixed your EIGHT for you in the comment, btw.

  6. Thank you, Sandra! Glad you visited today and thrilled that you enjoyed the site and the blog. COme back often – we always have something new cooking here!

    In fact we have a very special week coming up real soon! The Fillies are throwing a FIRST ANNIVERSARY BASH! Can you stand it? Watch for announcements.

  7. I always wonder if other people’s minds twist and turn like mine.

    It’s the ‘what if’ that creates the story. I watch some contemporary cop drama and think, “What if it was a western.”
    “What if, instead of a jailbreak there was a … ” It just snowballs.
    Or, this happens a lot. I watch a movie and don’t like the end. I’m a HUGE Happily Ever After girl.
    So I say, “Instead of the hero dying to save her, what if he not only survived the attack but he also… blah, blah, blah.”

    Twisting scenarios around in my head is what I do for fun.

    Right now I’m researching historical artists. Very interesting. I want to have an artist, painting mountain scenery, run up against a very practical, tough western woman who doesn’t respect much if it doesn’t put meat on the table.

    But I know nothing about art or that era…especially in really practical terms. Did oil paint come in bottles? Did an artist make his own? Were there pastels? Inks? Only oil paint? Did it dry out? How much would you have to haul along if you were heading for the remote unsettled west. Could you even hope to get your paints and canvases intact to the west?

    Just a zillion details that I’m finding fascinating and frustrating too, because these details can be hard to find. What did a jar of oil paint look like? A pint canning jar? A test tube? Tin can maybe?
    Were paint brushes made of ??? fur? Hair? Did an artist buy them? Make them?

    Anyway, the whole time I’m researching this idea I’m getting hit with other ideas.

    But I think to a lot of people the most unlikely inspiration, and one no one can see but me, is that Petticoat Ranch was inspired in large part by a Dirty Harry movie.

    And no, Sophie isn’t a female Dirty Harry, but that movie kicked off the “What if…”

  8. Do you mean the chocolate kind of brownies or the little elf guys, Cheryl? I’d vote for the chocolate kind. What a lot of great, heartwarming stories you have–and I know there are lots more on your backlist.
    The silly comment that cracks me up is when somebody says, “Hey, I’ve got this great idea for a story. I’ll tell it to you, you can write it, and we’ll split the money.” Still trying to think of the perfect comeback.
    🙂

  9. Great blog. I loved hearing the different things out there at gave you your inspiration for your stories. I can’t believe people would actually think you are serious with those answers of how you get you ideas. They are pretty funny though, little green men, locking yourself in a closet chanting a mantra thats too much.

  10. Thanks, Kathy!

    Yes, Mary, that’s it exactly. The what if creates the story.

    Mary, painting in oils, inks and watercolors goes way way back – you might research early French and Italian artists for details. But definitely they had those mediums in the 1800s.

    I’m planning a photographer, and they carried chemicals and glass plates and all kinds of equipment on pack mules, and traveled up mountains! I’m certain your artist can carry his equipment with him.

    Brushes are still made of hair, so no doubt they were then as well. Sounds like a great story!

  11. Very cute blog post. So I guess all we have to do is start eating brownies and we will get the idea for a good book. No joke I really enjoyed how you came up with the ideas for each book. I guess you just have to use your imagination to get ideas.

  12. Elizabeth! How about this one: My life would make a great story, wait till you hear it. I say, “I don’t think the world is ready for your story. Get a hold of Oprah.”

    LOL on the brownies! Of course the CHOCOLATE kind! I never even thought of elves, but that’s a good one, too.

    Rebekah, some people get that it’s a joke, but others….well, you know we authors are eccentric. LOL

  13. Hi Quilt Lady! Well, you know what works for one person doesn’t neccesarily work for another. Maybe lasagne would feed your muse. I’d say try out all the comfort food groups to find one that works for you. :::wink:::

    Glad you enjoyed hearing about my inspiration.

  14. very interesting blog today; I like the brownies giving you inspiration, lol. They give me inspiration also but not on the writing front.
    A Christmas book coming out, wahoo!! I love Christmas stories so congrats on it.

  15. Cheryl brownies we all know how much you love them and I am glad you are able to get them so we can read such wonderful stories. I can’t wait to read this new one I have trouble waiting for all the next one to come out. I will getting mine as soon as it is out. Keep up the good work.

  16. This was another interesting blog today, Cheryl. It was fascinating to hear the story behind the stories. I am looking forward to reading your Christmas anthology. I love Christmas stories, and I read several every year.

  17. Thanks Cheryl- for fixing my eight and for finding that movie title. I looked through her movie credits, but wasn’t sure which one it was. I’ll have to watch for it to come on sometime.

    Yeah, Lola’s been in my thoughts today–not sure where she come from cause it was just a name that popped into my mind and it niggled and wiggled at me. I’ll definitely share about her once I figure her out. 😀

  18. Cher- Your stories and plots are all an inspiration! Since I’m having trouble plotting my next book, I think I’ll make some brownies! But then, I’ll have to get on the treadmill. That’s no fun!
    Thanks for he inspiring blog today!

  19. Cheryl,

    I love hearing authors talk about their “what if?” moments. It’s like a bit of magic I think. Or maybe fairy dust that someone sprinkles on us. All I know is that some little spark sets off our brains on a merry-go-round of interesting questions. It’s just amazing and is really the fun, fun part of creating stories.

    My first book, Knight on the Texas Plains, came from the question What if a bounty hunter wins a baby in a poker game? Would he raise the child or pawn her off on someone else? That turned into a wonderful story that brought tears to my eyes.

    My second book, The Cowboy Who Came Calling, started with the question What if the hero and heroine were chasing a wanted outlaw for totally different reasons and the heroine accidentally shoots the hero then has to doctor him? Lots of conflict in that story and it won the National Readers’ Choice Award.

    In my third book, Redemption, the question that set that off was What if a gunslinger goes back home after years on the run and finds his brother about to marry the woman my hero loves?

    Anyway, I love getting ideas for new stories. It’s like opening a present at Christmas. You never know what’s going to pop out. Thanks for sharing the questions behind your amazing backlist. You’re a wonderful writer with a knack for telling great stories.

    Keep ’em coming! 🙂

  20. Those were hysterical answers – some people will believe anything lol. I’m proud to say I’ve never asked “that” question but I have been known to ask an author what their favorite book is (I know). I usually ask that of a new to me author because if I had to try just one of their books I thought maybe they could push me in the right direction. I usually hear back that it’s either the one they are working on or they are all their favorites, like children. I guess I need to think of a different question lol.

  21. HI Cheryl!

    I really like the little green men theory — and the warehouse in Ohio or something like that as well. Great post, Cheryl.

    Love also your beautiful covers. Thanks for sharing with us.

  22. I love the liitle background info for each of the books! I am creative in other ways and I enjoy when inspiration appears in any form! No matter where the idea comes from, it takes a talented person to use what is presented to them!!! 😀

  23. Hi Cheryl,
    I loved your responses although I can’t believe the comment someone made to Elizabeth about basically selling her an idea for a story. I do like your Oprah response though.

    I think what a lot of people just don’t get is that writing is an art and the author is an artist, just like any muscian, painter, sculptor, poet, etc. So what you create comes from within you, your life experiences intermingled with your imagination and it becomes your personal creation.

    Congratulations on your new book!

  24. Cheryl, I’m giggling at your post today–I’m thrilled that the Idea Fairy visits you regularly! Congrats on the latest 😉

  25. Hi Cheryl, oh brownies. A big no-no around here right now as I have a high school reunion coming up. Hubby was the BMOC and I was the dork who improved with age (college was good to me, we married after it) so I can’t have people feeling sorry for him now LOL.

    What a wonderful run-down of your books. You are a terrific writer –and idea-finder!

  26. It’s amazing how you have created so many different heroes and heroines and I hope you never run out of ideas.

  27. The brownies are supposed to be chocolate…oh, now there’s a what if for my fantasy loving mind. 😉

    Oh, actually, that is good. Durn it, Cheryl, now there’s gonna be another idea stirrin’ in that big stainless steel bowl.

    And that’s how ideas happen. I often start with a phrase of thought that I think will make a great title and the tale grows from there.

    I’ll be waitin’ for those strawberries.

    And look, in the time it’s taken me to type this the chocolate brownies are headed for something like the shoemaker’s elves…

    Someone help me… 😛

  28. Hi Cheryl! Your blog was such a delight to read! So funny! Brownies – LOL! Seriously, though, it was fascinating to hear how you came up with your ideas for each book. Thank you for sharing and congratulations on your new anthology!

  29. Hi, Cheryl,

    I’ve known you forever but didn’t know the inspiration behind all the books. Delightful!

    Just coming off my deadline–in addition to chocolate helping me gain my 7 lbs. this summer, but licorice helped, too. I don’t even want to know how many bags I bought. Must be that little rush of sugar we writers need to get the words flowing, eh?

  30. My oh my, I disappeared to do a little nurse duty for the boy with the missing tonsils and visit editing happy land on my WIP, and I returned to all these comments! Whoo hoo!

    Robyn, Christmas stories are so popular! And anthologies are prefect for that busy time of year.

    Thanks, Brenda! I mentioned you (not by name) in a guest blog yesterday as one of the great friends I’ve met via being a writer.

    Cheryl, thank you for following me around the web to my blogs this week! I appreciate your comments. I might need a vacation after this. LOL

    Charlene, you know you can always whip out an email if you want to brainstorm. It’s tough to concentrate when a huge event is pending, and you’re in wedding mode. I think we all get it.

  31. Linda, do you remember where you got the idea for The Letter? We are a mutual admiration society. {{HUG}}

    Jeanne, it’s not a bad idea to ask an author to recommend one of their books. I do admit I have a few favorites, and also finding out what type of story a reader likes will help in suggesting one they’d enjoy.

    Hi Karen and Colleen! Thanks for visiting today!

    Za, I like the way you described ideas.

    Always good to laugh, Fedora!

    Mary, so sorry I never thought to suggest you be on Oprah! What a novel idea!

    Hi Maureen! I don’t think I’ll ever run out of ideas. Sometimes it’s selling them that’s the struggle.

    Hey Deborah! Thanks for the congrats!

  32. Hi Cheryl! I can’t believe you remember all the inspiring moments that caused you to write one book or another. I’d have to wrack my brain for a while before it came to me.

    Surprisingly, hardly anyone ever asks me where I get my ideas from. They ask other weird questions. A distant neighbor once accused me of using her husband as one of my heroes (he is soooo not hero material, LOL) I was startled and couldn’t come up with any fast reply other than laugh. And then assured her that no, I didn’t. (I rarely saw them) Of course, I’ve kept my distance ever since!

  33. Kate, that is so funny! I can just picture the guy now.

    Sometimes I sign a book using a husband’s or boyfriends name just for fun, like, “Susan, Todd was the inspiration for my hero – you lucky girl!” or some such silly thing.

  34. Hey Cheryl – great post as usual. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again…Heaven Can Wait is the first book on my 2008 Top 10 list and even though I read it in Jan, I still remember it. And that’s something from someone who has to eat bananas every day to keep her potassium level up for her memory. 🙂

    Just last week I was at the library and bought 2 more of your books at their used sale: The Preacher’s Wife and His Secondhand Wife. I always feel guilty when I get the used books though – part of it’s b/c the author doesn’t get any money, and also b/c then I have to decide if I can sneak it into my TBR pile on top of new current books since the book reviews could help those authors sell more while their books are in the stores. Decisions…decisions. If only all decisions were as tough as what to read, eh?

  35. That is too funny! I support that Brownies help you to be inspired 🙂 The more chocolate, the better the idea!

    It is always fun to read the “behind the scenes” information about a book! Thanks for sharing!

  36. Thanks for giving us insights as to the origin of your ideas.

    I am a major player in the ‘what if’ game. Anything goes – I even saw a woman pulling a little empty red wagon through a parking lot one day and my mind started churning out ideas as to why she was there, why she had a wagon and why it was empty.

  37. Hi Cheryl! Very interesting blog! Loved learning how you get creative ideas for your books. I can’t wait to read your latest!

  38. Hi Estella!

    Anita, I love that you love books! LOL Thanks for reviewing so many books and supporting the genre that way. I always enjoy hearing about one of my books that you’e enjoyed, even if it’s an older one. That just means it’s a classic. 8)

    Hi Sherry! We appreciate you coming by.

    Waving to Kathleen, Margie and Nathalie! The Fillies LURV you!

  39. I see you do get inspired sometimes by movies also… I never though of them as a source of inspiration.

    Congrats on the new book!

  40. Enjoyed the information as to the origins of
    your books!

    I just have to share my belief with the world:

    Brownies are our friends! Where would we be
    without BROWNIES!!

    Pat Cochran

  41. Great post Cheryl! Brownies are my favorite dessert and I so agree that they should inspire everyone. I found some great recipes from your site that I would love to try. Hey, Christmas is coming and I lovet to bake during the holidays.

  42. What a great blog. My life would make a terrible romance novel…but maybe you could fix that! Just promise me that I get to be rich, thin and beautiful 🙂

  43. Well, I’m on my way to Tulsa and I’m baking brownies for the trip!

    My “pat” answer when someone asks me where I get my ideas….Divine Inspiration. Honestly Can’t explain it any other way. 🙂

    Sometimes I go into a little more detail if asked, but that usually does the trick.

    Love the post Cheryl.

    PamT

  44. Pat, it would be a sad world without brownies. Candidates should run on a brownie platform if they want votes.

    Thanks for checking out my recipe site, Cherie. You can do search in that upper left hand window to find specific recipes, like…well chocolate. LOL Also lots of crock pot recipes!

    Sherri, what are you takinabout? You are thin rich and beautiful!

    Pam, there is a great shoe store in Tulsa, too! Check out DSW while you’re there.

  45. Ok, now you made me crave for chocolate. But not enough for me to drive over ten kilometers by bike to the nearest shop…

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