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.”
“I remember everything everyone tells me and I use it.”
“Little green men come to me and night and whisper plots in my ear.”
“There’s this little warehouse outside Tulsa.”
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?
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.