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I is for Ideas #atozchallenge

Where do you get your ideas?

People ask that question of writers so frequently, some writers hate to hear it. Some hate it enough to respond with sarcasm when it comes up.

Perhaps I’m weird, but I love answering that question. Thought processes have always fascinated me, so when an idea for a story pops out of the ether, I enjoy picking apart how I got it.

Every one of my stories started as an idea, and the germ started from a series of thoughts.

For example, Storm Lake, my short horror story, came out of thoughts I had when I saw trees up at our cottage with huge burls. I had no idea what a burl was at the time (about twenty years ago, which tells you how long that idea sat purcolating in my brain). I didn’t learn anything about burls until I sat down to write the story. So, of course, my writer’s brain made shit up about what those enourmous bulges on the trees were.

Me being me, the first thought was that they looked like something was gestating in there. That’s it. Once that seed dropped, it expanded from there, and I thought it would make a great basis for a story.

What happens when I get that little idea seed, you see, is that I then expand on it by asking “what if?” So, what if those trees were gestating something inside them? What’s in there? How did it get in there? What happens when they mature? Probably nothing good, right?

And so Storm Lake was born.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, this is the one-sentence summary for it: A girl and her little brother struggle to save themselves when trapped in an isolated marina by flesh-eating creatures.

The romantic suspense story Injury also has an interesting origin.

Injury‘s one-sentence summary: A young actress at the height of her career has her personal life turned upside down when a horrifying family secret makes front-page news.

The idea for Injury came to me years ago, but the seed for it came even before that. When my daughter was in elementary school, she had to write a biography of a famous person. She chose Marilyn Monroe.

Part of the assignment was to create a list of interview questions for the person. In the list my daughter compiled was this: If you could ask your father anything right now, what would it be?

That question lingered in my psyche for years. What would Marilyn have said? How did it feel for her to have grown up without a father? Did she wonder if he saw her in her movies and think about her? If you examine her life and relationships, her lack of a father impacted her tremendously.

My writer’s brain took over, and I what iffed the hell out of it.

What if a young woman who thought her father had abandoned her persued a career in movies to try to get his attention via her fame? What if these abandonment issues haunted her throughout her life, molded who she was, formed the person she became? Then what if she found out he’d never abandoned her? How traumatic would that be? How would that change her life and how she viewed herself?

From that, I created Daniella Grayson.

Every story has a story.


7 Responses

  1. Great post Val.

    Ideas are important to all aspiring authors no matter how small, the old adage ‘mighty oaks from little acorns’ springs to mind. The basis of my first fiction was an idea based on fact – and to exact some revenge in my own way haha – but my next fiction is based on a conversation I overheard between a man and his wife… ” I should have killed you years ago when you first lifted your hands to hit me.” The seed was sown for me.

    Ideas to an enquiring mind makes for great stories like your Storm Lake and your lovely tale Injury.

  2. My ideas tend to come from odd sources: My first mystery – Corpus Delectable – was born when I was covering a murder trial and for some reason could not say the words “corpus delecti” properly. It kept coming out as “corpus delectable.” I wrote that down in my notebook and started thinking about the murder of a beautiful woman – a delectable corpse, if you will. My historical fiction novel The Third Servant, however, came to me while I was attending Mass one Sunday morning. The sermon focused on the parable in Matthew about the servant who was cast into the night for failing to increase his master’s wealth as his other two servants had. I began wondering what ever happened to that unfortunate servant and a whole story began unfolding in my mind…I guess what I’m trying to say is that, for me, story ideas just kind of happen… the trick, for me, is to keep my eyes, ears, and mind open so that I recognize them…

  3. I like to tell people I write because it legitimizes all those voices in my head. I am only half joking…the voices are really story ideas. At any given moment I probably have half a dozen different plots running through my mind. The ones that stick make it into novels. The others are tossed away…if they return, a story might be born.

    I was on vacation many years ago and as our vehicle traveled over a bridge the thump, thumping sound the tires made over the uneven surface stuck in my mind for some reason. It had such an impact that years later, as my ideas began to form for ‘Dusk’ (the first novel in my Warrior Series) I had this clear visual of the main character rushing home and driving over a bridge…the sound of tires thumping on the surface more profound because she was in such a heightened sense of shock. I knew instantly that was how the story would begin. And so…a novel was born.

    The idea for ‘Mount Haven’ developed from the routine task at work of reading through the crime docket from the previous nights activities. There were a couple arrests made the same evening that clicked for me and a criminal suspense began to take shape. My family sometimes gets frustrated because they want me to write a certain story or a certain genre. I keep telling them I can’t write on demand. The story will just come to me if it’s meant to be.

  4. […] short story, Storm Lake, is a perfect example of that. The more I looked at the misshapen trees around our cottage, the more I saw monsters waiting to be […]

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