I decided to start this series of posts because writers get a lot of questions from people and one of the most common questions is – where do your ideas come from. Every writer’s answer will be different and an interesting note is that a group of writers could be shown on photograph as a writing prompt and each writer would have a different story idea. And even if two writers had the same story idea, their story would be unique to her and to her genre. As you can tell by now, this isn’t an easy question to answer. But I think (I hope so) that you’ll enjoy the explanation of my process. I have a full cup of coffee so lets get chatting.
Luckily a story idea sparked just the other day for a series I am in the process of creating and because of that I can’t provide too many details. But I think I can share just enough for you to understand how this writer’s mind works. Shall we begin?
On New Year’s Eve I took my 13 year old Shih-Tzu (I hope she’ll forgive me for sharing her age) out to do a little shopping. We went to the local pet shop to buy food and bird seed. She greeted a bunch of people and she was lavished with attention from another Shih-Tzu mom who wanted to know where Susie went from grooming. After we packed the car I decided to take Susie for a walk over at an open space in town that used to house a state mental hospital. The property, which is over 180 acres, used to be a state run psychiatric hospital and now is owned by the town and is being re-purposed. But the project isn’t complete and there are still abandoned buildings on the property such as the one below.
Let me just say now that there is a creepy history to the property. The stories are endless since the buildings that housed and cared for thousands of patients were connected buy underground tunnels. Let that sink into your mind for a bit. Get the picture? Creepy. Anyway, the property is slowly being turned into a space where residents can walk, run, bike, horseback ride and there are open fields for sports. It’s also the place for concerts and art shows. But for a writer, like me, it’s also a place for ideas.
Back to the walk. We passed by the building above as we walked along the sidewalk but Susie wanted to get closer to the building (several of the buildings have warning signs to stay away for safety reasons but this building didn’t have a sign) and I tried to distract her, after all we had a walk to continue on with. She wasn’t budging. She wanted to get closer to the building. Now my imagination is kicking in. Did she hear something? Smell something? Sense something? I allowed her to continue forward and she sniffed her way up the steps and around the side of the building. I let her continue on while my mind started turning over a story question – what if….and that led me to an idea for a second book in a different series I’m outlining now. What if she (my protagonist) is out walking her dog at a similar location to Fairfield Hills and the dog leads her to a dead body and it’s the first of several as a serial killer emerges. Boom! Story idea!
That is how writers get ideas. From innocent walks with dogs, from ordinary trips to the grocery store to the nightly news. There’s a story idea practically in every thing a writer sees, hears, or experiences.
I’m going to finish my coffee now and I’d love to know what sparks your imagination.