People often ask me where I get ideas for my stories and characters. The answer is, “Everywhere.” I’ve based plots on happenings in my own life as well as my friends’ lives.
Characters usually start out as a vague concept, a melding of various people I’ve known. Before long, they take on a life of their own, complete with good and bad points, quirks and contradictions. They become flesh and blood people to me. I’ve had a couple of characters take over the story. The first time this happened―with Christie in If Truth Be Told―I fought it. Christie, fought back, and finally I gave her the lead. It was a wild ride. She said things that shocked me and often made me laugh out loud. She taught me that the characters I create, once I drop them into the story, know who they are and where they are going. If I have to push them along, I don’t know them well enough to write about them.
Plots spring out of incidents in my own life, newspaper articles, stories people have told me, or even bits of overheard dialogue. Of Words & Music, my March 2009 release, came from a visit paid to me by a co-worker. She was remarrying, and I was making a junior bridesmaid dress for her twelve-year old daughter. I could tell the daughter wanted nothing to do with the wedding, her mother or me…until she saw my piano. She learned that we’d been taking lessons for about the same length of time (I was a very late bloomer). From that moment forward we had a common bond. Her reaction cemented something I already knew: music transcends words. It lowers defensive barriers. It is a language all its own.
In the past, I let the plot develop on its own, sitting in front of a blank computer screen until the muse took me. That may work with some stories, but now that I’m writing mysteries, I find it helpful to take a more organized approach.
With If Truth Be Told, I knew the ending before I wrote the first word; but I didn’t outline the story. Halfway through, I sat back and said, “How in the world am I going to get from here to the end?” Part of that was Christie’s fault. Convenient to have a character to blame, don’t you think?
With my upcoming mystery series, LIVE, I outlined the entire first novel (LIVE Ringer). Then I expanded the outline until it became the novel. I did the same thing with LIVE Ammo. I wrote that in a year. Book three is outlined, just waiting for some fleshing out.
So, where do the stories come from? Everywhere. You never know when a chance remark or something you catch out of the corner of your eye will evolve into a story. It pays to stay alert, to be open to chance and, when something grabs you, go with it. It may just be the next New York Times best seller.