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:
-- 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.
-- Badlands Bride actually started out as 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.
-- 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. My publisher said dream titles didn’t fly and changed it. Susan Elisabeth Phillips then came out with a book using that title. My publisher forgot to qualify with the fact that dream titles don’t work -- unless you’re Susan Elisabeth Phillips. 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, and the one 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.
I just heard from a reader who read The Doctor’s Wife for the first time. Isn’t it exciting that books live on forever? There are two spinoffs from that book: His Secondhand Wife and The Preacher’s Daughter.
Last night I got an idea for a story in which a daughter arrives home to find her mother has died days ago and she has missed the funeral. I don’t know what will come of it, but the idea intrigues me, so that story will probably pop up someday.
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.
If you don’t believe me, I have a blog to prove it: http://ideascomefrombrownies.blogspot.com/
Today I’m going to draw a name and send the winner a copy of one of my books that they’ve missed. (And in the off chance that they have them all, I’ll make them a pair of earrings.) So leave a comment and I’ll put your name in my cowboy hat to win a book.