I suppose as long as we have people who write, we will have readers who ask, “Where do you get the ideas for your stories?” and some of us will make a stab at answering. This is my version: Some of my best story ideas come from that social no-no EAVESDROPPING. Yes, I know it’s rude. And I was taught not to do it. But what can a storyteller do? You’re having a quiet lunch, the people at the table behind you–total strangers–mention the excitement at a recent wedding when the bride suddenly refused to say “I do’ . Well,I don’t know about you but when it happened to me, the next thing I did was dash home and make notes for ELOPEMENT FOR ONE before I forgot the details. I had a lot of fun finding out why the bride ran away and who she ran to.
Another great place for story ideas to take root is off-beat little feature stories in the local newspaper. I think small town newspapers are the best for this kind of inspiration because they print personal stories that aren’t news-worthy in the metropolitan press. Small town newspapers will give the reader the total guest list of a recent party or a button-by-button description of the gown Mrs. Hoopenlooper wore to the Knights of Columbus ball. The reader gets intimate tours of the engagement parties, baby showers, and small celebrations that are part of daily life. From a small town paper I learned about a valiant librarian who was defying civic leaders and refusing to remove a popular book from the shelves. Outraged mothers were insisting the book was endangering the moral fiber of the young people who might read it and discover–mercy on us–sex, sin and rock-a-billy music. In that librarian’s stand I found the basis of the story that became DON’T CALL ME DARLIN’. I’ve always been grateful to librarians for broadening my world.
One place I’ve found to be a gold mine of possible story ideas is the much maligned family reunion. Just get a group of older aunties together and listen. Sitting quietly in a corner, forgotten and ignored, I’ve heard enough family scandal to supply the cornerstone of a ten book series. By the time I’ve figured out why Aunt M doesn’t speak to Uncle J or how it was that Cousin BB had a baby that looked just like Cousin DB’s husband, whole plots, subplots and sequels are falling into place. The bits and pieces of one such reunion gave me the underlying story for the new book CRY AGAINST THE WIND coming out next year. Hope the dear old aunties don’t recognize the source of that one.
Don’t overlook personal experience as a source worth developing. When I was a small girl I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. Granddaddy had a little country band and a radio show on Saturday morning. One of my great treats was to go to the radio station with him and watch the ‘fellers’ do their show. While searching for a way to connect Evie and Dallas, the heroine and hero of BLACK RAIN RISING, I remembered my early trips to that tiny radio station and made it the center location of the book. Thanks for the memories, Granddad. Writing the book gave me a chance to borrow back a treasured moment from my childhood.
Finally I find that my own hobbies and interests offer a hook that will support a story. I’ve been a classic car enthusiast since I fell in love with a TR-3–the boy who drove it was secondary. I attend car events, belong to a club that puts on classic car shows, and find myself avidly listening to people who own those pieces of engineering art. Out of that fascination I built the story about the disappearing groom and his 55 T-bird that became HALF PAST MOURNING. I owe a lot of people many thanks for taking the time to help me understand the finer points of driving and how a road rally is planned. Hobbies or passions are ripe for harvesting for story ideas. I’d bet any organization devoted to a collective interest is full of quirky characters just waiting to be plugged into a story.
Where do story ideas come from? Well, perhaps they wait to rain down out of the atmosphere. They may lurk in high school annuals. Some can be overheard in elevators between floors. Possibly they are picked up from casual encounters in the grocery store. Now I’ve told the absolute truth about where my ideas come from, but I’ve only told it to other writers. Needless to say, when a reader asks, I’m never going to admit my inspiration is anything as mundane as a family reunion or an old newspaper. What do you tell people when they ask the inevitable question?
Don’t Call Me Darlin’
Black Rain Rising
Elopement for One
Half Past Mourning
Cry Against the Wind (forthcoming)