Where Do Ideas Come From?
Congratulations to contest winner Marilyn Meredith.
Written by Guest Blogger Kaye George
Today I welcome guest blogger Kaye George. Kaye has been a janitor, a mental health center secretary, a short order cook, a violinist, an online mystery reviewer, and is now an award-winning short story writer, two-time Agatha nominee, and the author of the hilarious Imogene Duckworthy mysteries, Smoke, Choke, and soon to be released Broke. Kaye is also the President of the Guppies, an on-line chapter of Sisters in Crime devoted to helping unpublished and newly published mystery writers. Join Kaye for her post about the dreaded question fans just love to ask.
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS?
I have to admit, this is a burning question for a lot of people. It must be, because I get asked it a lot. I’ll bet every writer does. And you know what? Every writer dreads that question because we have no idea. Really. I know that’s hard to believe, but, most of the time, my ideas just pop up, unbidden.
I can tell you a few sources, though. I once wrote a story for a themed magazine issue, but the magazine folded before that issue could be published. Another time, there was an anthology that wanted entries containing several key words, and I wrote a story using all the words (most cleverly, I might add), but the story wasn’t accepted. Both of those stories were accepted later by other publications having nothing to do with the original prompts.
My Neanderthal mystery (yet to be published, but soon, I hope) arose from my life-long interest in archeology, geology, and anthropology. Plus a little sprig of inspiration from a short story writer. It was in either Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine or Ellery Queen, that an author said the further back in history you go, the better. I don’t remember the author—the stories were either ancient Roman or Greek or Egyptian—but I remember my reaction. I knew I could go WAY further back than that. I went back 30,000 years. Loved, loved, loved writing that book. I look forward to writing a sequel someday, too.
This brings me to the impetus for writing the Imogene Duckworthy series. The research was intense for the Neanderthal, Ice Age stuff and I was deeply involved with my tribe, to the extent that they became real people to me. My reaction was to want to write something the opposite, something as wild and crazy and flippant as possible.
Thus, I conceived the idea for an Inept Detective, a person who solves crimes in spite of herself. (This is somewhat of a no-no in detective circles, having accident and coincidence solve cases. So I went for it.) Right away, I knew her name would be Imogene. Forgive me if this is your name, but it seems an ideal comedic name. Her surname took longer. I wanted the last initial to be D for the Inept Detective (wording which I completely dropped), but what?
Driving home to Taylor from Austin one night, we went past the football field for the Hutto Hippos (used in the opening of the TV show Friday Night Lights), and I lamented I couldn’t use the preposterous Hutto Hippos somewhere. But, aha, Taylor’s team is the Ducks. Just as funny, really. So she became Imogene Duckworthy.
Where the plots for the books came from, is harder. I have no idea.
If you’re a writer, do you know where you get your ideas? If you’re a reader, is this something you wonder about? Leave a comment by midnight, September 30, and you’ll be entered into a drawing to win an e-book version of either Choke or Smoke. The third book in the series Broke will be appearing soon!
Check out Kaye’s website www.kayegeorge.com for news about her upcoming Fat Cat Mystery Series with Berkley Prime Crime. Kaye is also a contributor to Make Mine Mystery.
Newspaper articles and sometimes my silly neighbors. LOL. I get names from the obituary column, and sometimes the unrelated obits bring a story to mind… common interests, backgrounds, that sort of thing. It doesn’t take much.
I wonder how the author comes up with a plot line and is able to carry it through. Do you wrtie up a complete outline or just wing it? I always wanted to know.
Ditto what Dani said. For me, it used to be just stuff overheard in the neighborhood or something in a random news article. Nowadays, the edges of real life and fiction seem to blur together (when the real is unbelievable, making some fiction occasionally seem mundane). There are story ideas everywhere. Right here on this salmon pink screen, in fact! What I want to know is how everyone, including you, Kaye, find enough time to write them all?
Dani, I agree, everything is fodder. It’s hard for me to see how the input came together to form the output sometimes–the inside of my head is a mystery to me!
Cheryl, I have a whole folder of plotting instructions. I generally try to have a workable outline, or a direction, and I write from that. But, in the process of getting to know my characters and my story, everything is subject to change!
Plots are everywhere–newspapers, people you see in public, eavesdropping in restaurants, and the new thing, listening to people talking on their cellphones. They say the most intimate things so LOUD. As I’m writing, more ideas flood in.
Sometimes I just wake up in the morning with a great (I think) idea. Other times ideas result from other people, particularly from nasty coworkers especially those with personality disorders. They make great murder suspects, or victims.
I envy people who get ideas. The only way I ever come up with anything is to write my way there. I start with a character, and I follow her, trying to figure out who she is. She meets other people, and I observe her reactions to them and try to sort out who they might be and how they might relate to my character. I end each chapter with a hook, hinting at secrets, but I have no idea what those secrets might be. When I have maybe 50,000 words on the page, maybe, just maybe, a plot begins to emerge.
It may not be an efficient process, but at least the stories aren’t predictable. 🙂
Hi Kaye and Cindy,
Kaye, I loved your blog and understand how characters, plots, and scenes come from the darndest places. For me, it’s mostly scenes: I’ll see Aggie Mundeen doing something questionable (according to everybody but her) and have to figure out how she got there and what kind of chaos she might cause next. I think a cog in my brain might have gotten loose, and Aggie’s the only one who knows how to re-install it.
Regards to you both!
Nancy G. West
Aggie Mundeen mysteries
FIT TO BE DEAD
DANG NEAR DEAD, coming December 1st
It’s that idle, free-association (or maybe free-range) thinking when your mind is not here. It’s the ‘what-if’ and the ‘why’ and the ‘huh?’ that get me every time. You have such a breadth of experience that I suspect you’re full of stories!
Marilyn, I love eavesdropping. Sometimes I even whip out a notebook and take dictation.
Janet, aren’t we writers lucky that we can get back at people however we want?
Nancy DeMarco, what a brave way to work! Nancy West, your experience is closer to mine. Michele, a great description of a mysterious process!
Love the sroty of how Imogene got her name. I love to brainstorm name ideas and have real meaning for them.
Ideas ARE everywhere. I mine all kinds of conversations, commercials and even road signs for them.
Newspapers, billboards, misheard conversations, especially those in a restaurant or an elevator. Great fodder for plots! I feel free to steal whole conversations from strangers.
Hi, Kaye and Cindy,
Yes, I’m often asked this question as well. Writers are observant people. So ideas are all around us. Also, as a reader, I gets lots of ideas for fiction from reading nonfiction.
My first novel, Arirang: The Bamboo Connection, romance theme came from an urban legend of an old woman who “retired” on a cruise ship rather than a retirement homs because it had all the amenities without the boredom. So, I wrote a story that could have been the story of her life.
My second novel, Ghost Orchid, story line came to me while I was watching all the people watching the ghost orchid, almost mesmerized by its beauty; and I wondered about the lives of each of those observors – and wrote about one.
My short stories come from experiences that haunt me. The View From the Balcony in Romance of My Dreams II (L & L Dreamspell) came from a picture of my friend’s daughter riding a white stallion in the sea foam, long blond hair flying behind, wearing an exquisite white wedding dress and barefoot – and I thought – why is she riding that horse in that dress? And the story was born.
http://www.dkchristi.com author of Ghost Orchid and more. Journalist for the Southwest Spotlight swspotlight.com
I write mysteries, so there’s always a great idea somewhere–the news, papers, Law & Order… What I want to know is where do romance writers get their ideas? I mean, is their real life full of that much romance? Huh … maybe I should switch genres!
I loved the story about how you came up with Imogene Duckworthy’s name. It’s all about those random associations! I’m writing a mystery set in Northern Minnesota so my intention was to come up with a plot that’s plausible for that area but not so common it’s already been done. I hope I’m succeeding.
Thanks for all the comments and ideas. Susan, romance writers wonder where mystery writers get our ideas, I’m told. After all, we get into a lot of trouble if we do too much of the wrong kind research.
Seriously, I think a lot of mystery writers, especially of the more gritty stories (which I sometimes do), are addressing our inner dark sides in a somewhat healthy way. Romance writers are probably all happily, sedately married and this is their way of cutting loose safely. Makes sense to me, anyway. 🙂
Ideas just pop into my head. Once I was having breakfast with my daughter and the whole story appeared in my head after looking at her tee shirt. What did the tee shirt say? National Law Enforcement Memorial, Washington, D.C. It had the blue shield with a red rose. It gave me the characters, the plot and the book from start to finish. Amazed me.
That’s amazing, Pat! I’ve had a few short stories appear fully formed and I love that.
I have a twitch of an idea (helped on by a friend’s suggestion at LCC this year), but I’m stumped of how to develop it. I don’t consider myself a writer and I’ve offered the idea back to the friend, who is, but he graciously said it’s all mine. What scares me most is all the surrounding story – place, people, dialogue (especially)
My son told me the crazy dream he had last night and I immediately thought of how it could be used in a story. I do that all the time. You see something or someone and say, hmm, would he be the victim or the murderer? Is this a good place to find a body? It drives my kids nuts, but I have a lot of fun with it.
Sara, maybe if you just start setting some words down, something will develop.
I’m always looking for places to hide bodies, Malena. How nice your son had a crazy dream. 🙂
The idea for my published novel, When the Moon Is Gibbous and Waxing, came from a nightmare. The first scene is the dream up to when I awoke. The rest of the novel came from wondering what it would be like to have that experience, and I now have three more books in that series planned. I have a series of novelettes started that came from a Will Rogers quote. Of my short story collections (published as AH Myers), All on a Summer’s Day is highly autobiographical. (Yes, that’s my sister and I on the cover). Its companion, Ashes to Ashes and Points Between, came from a newspaper article that set me to wondering. The Quarter Test, one of the stories in my Halloween collection, Night Speaks, was a dream, from beginning to end, and I woke up dreaming I had woke up and was writing it down.
I think it’s unusual that you can pinpoint where every idea came from, Angela! Your brain is more organized than mine by a long shot. I don’t think I’ve ever had a whole plot idea from a dream, but I have woken up with ideas to fix plot problems.
Kaye, I am like you – the ideas just pop into my head, usually while in a hypnagogic state. The problem is remembering them when I’m fully awake. I really like the concept for your Neanderthal mystery.
Christy, I had to look up that word–hypnagogic. It’s a good one! I hope to announce a publisher for the Neanderthal mystery sometime before the end of the year. Thanks!
Great interview Kaye and funny story about Immy’s name. My ideas seem to come to me in that twilight time coming out of deep sleep and fully awake. Since they are so dream like they feel so real until I drag myself to the computer and try to write them out. That’s when the make or fail my 3 chapter/full ending requirement.
I’ve always liked the concept of your Neanderthal mystery. Good luck with that publisher.
Believe it or not, my mystery series was inspired by The Monkees TV show, which I love. My protagonist is a former teen idol who once had his own TV show and is now making a comeback. The first book, “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper,” was inspired by my love of The Beatles and from some Beatles fan conventions I had attended. Throughout the plot I worked in references to the Beatles movies and song lyrics. The next book, “The Sinister Sitcom Caper,” is based on my experiences working at a movie studio. A cruise I took is the inspiration behind the (hopefully) third book in the series. So I’m using my life experiences and pop culture for my books.
I agree, that’s a funny story about Immy’s name. My plot ideas usually come from an image. I’ll see something or someone and have a flash about the overall direction of the story. After that, it’s put myself into the situation and start thinking of possibilities. I usually do not look to the news until I’m well into things and need supporting details. For instance, in PHOTO FINISH, my first McKenna novel, I didn’t think of a transportation method for the drugs until I knew what was happening. Then,, once I knew what i needed, I went looking for offbeat ways to accomplish it, and that’s where the news came in.
Sometimes I’m afraid to tell people where I get my ideas, for fear they will lock me up.
Oh, Kaye, you hit the nail on the head. Some idea from nowhere burns in our brains, and we can’t get it out. Then we just go with it, most of the time not knowing where we’re going. Great post. Good luck with the Neanderthal mystery.
This Imogene Duckworthy sounds delightful! My own current sleuth tracks down crimes with reluctance, and often ineptitude. I love to read about such characters to whom I can relate! A lovely blog.
Pat, I rarely remember what I dream, but I envy those who can use them. I’ve tried intentionally trying to remember them and that works, a little. But it’s an effort!
Sally, using the Beatles sounds like lots of fun!
Terry, I like writing short fiction and flash from prompts, sometimes pictures. I used to regularly try to get accepted for the Mysterious Photo in Alfred Hitchcock–must try that again!
Pauline, sounds like you’re successfully accessing your dark side. :<0
Thanks for the good wishes, Polly!
Nancy, maybe we should get our sleuths together. 🙂
The inspiration for my last two works (one published, one I’m still working with) came from the facility in which I work. My first book’s inspiration came from a cruise I was on, as well as, some true life incidents. The collections of stories came from various writing prompts, as well as, true life. The second book’s inspiration was a round robin fan fic based on American Idol.
Inspiration can truly come from anywhere; all we have to do is keep our eyes and ears open.
Cindy/Kaye–The last third of Final Accounting, a romantic suspense, due out in October, came to me after my brother-in-law suggested a cave in Jamaica would be a great place to hide a body. I did research on caves. Didn’t use one to hide a body, but, oh boy, is a cave a great place for a chase scene. I have to credit Sisters in Crime with many of my ideas. Our Upstate SC Chapter has GREAT guests. Invariably they’ll say something that will trigger an idea. Just attended the Writers’ Police Academy, too. Wow, did I get ideas there.
Imogene Duckworthy sounds like a delightful character! I love humor within a “serious” novel. It’s difficult to pull off well and so I admire an author who can find the humor/comic/parody in something serious.–Donna Del Oro
Public transportation is a great source of ideas. I once overheard a woman talking on her cell for forty-five minutes without taking a breath. She wasn’t that interesting, but I imagined the person on the other end had a good motive for murder.
Kaye, I get asked this question a lot, too. I tell ’em it’s all compost, a metaphor I got from Ray Bradbury. Everything you experience goes into the compost, and the most amazing things come out. I once got a scifi short out of watching a fox catch a squirrel, and a coming of age from an estate sale. Not to mention a middle reader short from an abandoned shoe. Now that I’ve started writing cozies about an art gallery, the titles and plots come from art themes: Framed (obviously), A Thousand Words, Moving Pictures, Still Life, Plein Air. And I know there is an alien invasion based on the Snowtober Storm of 2011.
Sandra, I think writers’ brains are wired to look for plots and/or characters in everything. Linda, I think every mystery writer should try to take a police course. I did the Citizen’s Police Academy (confusingly called CPA) in Austin and loved it. Donna, I do hear that humor is hard to do, but I must be just weird because it’s the easiest kind of writing for me. Anita, I’m glad YOU didn’t kill the woman on the train. I like compost, Nikki. I’ve called it the primordial ooze in my brain, but that’s a bad visual.
I get my ideas from so many places; overheard conversations, newspapers, live experiences or just my imagination. The smallest thing can spark my brain into churning out ideas.
You guys have proved me so wrong! Writers do NOT hate to answer the question about where ideas come from.
Thanks for stopping by, Gloria!
Kaye, I’d read bits of your prehistoric mystery, so Choke was a big surprise to me. Completely different. Loved it! (But I don’t have Smoke yet.) I wonder how you came up with the titles for this series. And what comes after Broke?
I don’t know where the titles came from, but they seem to work. If I can write another one it might be called STROKE. A fake heart attack that is, of course, really murder and oil well pump jacks. But I have to do some other books first!
Thanks, Kaye, for a terrific blog post. I loved reading everyone’s comments. What a creative bunch of authors!
Imogen is definitely the antidote to intense, arduous research! Nice post, Kaye. For me I’d say the ideas come when I imagine a perfectly normal scenario somehow going horribly wrong. Waking up in the morning. Taking a family vacation. A honeymoon. A trip to the market. The list goes on and on, at least, I hope it does.
Thanks, Jenny! Yes, let’s hope the well never dries up.
I loved Imogen in CHOKE and am looking forward to read her adventures in the next book, too. I enjoyed this post, Kaye.
Thanks so much, Gloria! There are two more adventures now–hope you like them.