by Karen Ball
Authors, I’m guessing you’ve heard this question over and over: “Where do you get your ideas?” I know I’ve heard it more times than I can count. Now, if you’re like most writers I know, ideas for possible stories come fast and furious—most of the time. But what to do when you feel as though the idea well has run dusty and dry?
Well! Let me share a few standards that I, and other authors I know, rely on:
That old saying that the truth is stranger than fiction has stood the test of time for one reason: It’s true! I’ve discovered that the news, whether on TV or in a paper or online, is a veritable mine of ideas just waiting to be…well, mined. <grin> It just happened to me again this morning. My dad was reading to me from the local paper about a hit and run accident in our area. At 3 am day before yesterday, a woman driving a pickup ran a red light, slammed into a van carrying workers on their way to a job, then jumped from her truck and ran away. One worker was killed, three others seriously injured. The police finally caught the woman at her home, and when they did so she was suffering from a multitude of injuries, probably, the authorities said, from the crash.
SO, I’m listening to him read, and this is where my mind goes:
What if the woman they arrested wasn’t the one driving the truck? What if it was someone who wanted to kill the driver of that van? So she stole the pickup of a woman she’d been watching, a woman who lives alone, who is known to drink excessively, who has received at least one DUI. Just before she steals the pickup, what if she attacked the inebriated woman, causing her injuries? Then she takes the pickup, T-bones the van to kill the driver, then takes off. Of course, when the authorities come after the woman who drinks, they won’t believe it wasn’t her, that someone just “happened” to attack her and steal her pickup.
And on it goes from there.
Okay, I’m not saying the idea is perfect, but what I am saying is it’s amazing how many real stories can spark a “What if” scenario, than can then become a book.
Some of the most powerful nonfiction I’ve read has stemmed from what the author, or someone close to the author, really experienced. Who are the people around you? What are their stories? What about their stories gets your heart pumping, sparks your outrage, warms your heart? Listen and ask questions. There are stories just waiting for you to discover them.
One of the best things you can do when you’re looking for ideas is people watch. Seriously! Go to the mall, an airport, the park—any place that’s busy. Then sit down, and watch. Watch the interactions between people. Watch expressions and body language. Look at how folks are dressed, what they’re doing, how they act.
We have a bohemian community not too far from us, and it’s a veritable feast of odd characters to observe. There’s the man trapped in his own world who sits on the same bench every day. He’ll watch people passing by for a minute, then suddenly he freezes in whatever pose he is in. He sits like a statue for five minutes or so, then comes back to life. A few minutes later, he freezes again. It’s as though he just catches some inner bus to another destination, then comes back. I’ve watched him a number of times and wondered…
What happened in his life that brought him to this place?
What does he see, hear, think, feel while he’s checked out?
What if he’s not really crazy, but he’s some researching watching to see how people react? Or what if he’s an undercover cop, and this is a persona he’s created to keep an eye on the bad guys? OR, what if (and this shows you how bizarre my brain is) what’s going on in his head is reality, and I’m actually a part of the delusion??
Watch people, let your imagination run wild. The ideas and stories will follow.
Okay, those are a few suggestions for sparking ideas. Now, your turn! Where do you find ideas for the books you write?
Can’t wait to read your responses!