Writers are often asked, “where do you get your ideas?” I think for most writers, this is a perplexing question; for us, the answer most often seems to be “everywhere!” There are story ideas in nearly every interaction we have, such as while sitting at the coffee shop, driving down the road, traveling through an airport, listening to unhappy colleagues at work. There are ideas that arrive when we are sitting at the food court in the mall, people-watching (it’s not really spying, right?). We watch and read the news, we listen to our friends and loved ones, and so on. In fact, I would argue that it’s hard not to have ideas. Instead, it’s hard to find the time to write all the stories!
Recently, I traveled to Mexico for a family wedding. Several events occurred that had my creative juices flowing:
- I became violently ill, to the point where we requested a physician visit my hotel room. As she arrived, I sent my family off to the wedding; there was no sense in everyone missing it. The physician determined that I needed to be taken to a local emergency room for tests. She put me in a taxi with a letter, and off I went. I should mention, our cell phones did not work while we were there (no international plan) and the hotel had no wi-fi. So, my family had no idea where I was going or when I would be back; they didn’t even know I was gone! And I don’t speak Spanish. What if. . .I disappeared? The taxi driver took me somewhere other than the ER? What if I returned to the hotel to find my room assigned to someone else, and no one remembered me?
- Another wedding attendee was the only rider on the hotel shuttle to/from the airport. During the trip, the shuttle driver pulled into a parking lot, opened the door, accepted a wad of cash from someone outside the shuttle, and then continued driving. What if. . .this was some sinister deal going down, and the wedding attendee was the only witness? What if the shuttle driver had left the shuttle at that point, leaving his passenger on his own? What if another person hijacked the shuttle?
- Upon returning to our home airport, we had a long wait for luggage. Of course, everyone wants to get theirs as quickly as possible, so soon people waiting were piled three deep–to the point no one could possibly pull their luggage off the baggage carousel! I was tired, and frustrated, and found myself getting angry. What if. . .someone waiting for their luggage got really angry? What if a few waiting patrons suddenly became ill (perhaps a surreptitious administration of meds via syringe)?
Sometimes, we have a great idea, and we begin writing, and. . .it just doesn’t work. The characters are quiet–or worse, arguing with us!–the setting is bland, and well, you’re ready to give up. But then, you start asking that magic question again. What if?
I recently finished a short thriller and submitted it to an anthology contest. I won’t share too much here because I’m waiting to hear if it was accepted, but I started with an idea based on a true, local story. It would be a revenge piece, a full-length novel with lots of sneaking and surprising. I had some great scenes, a few pieces of dialogue I loved, but the story just. wouldn’t. move. forward. Argh! But then, I decided to make it a short story. That meant some serious changes to the pacing. I threw in a paranormal element that felt sharp to me. The change to a short story also gave me some room to leave a few bits less developed. Suddenly, the story–the whole thing–was in my head, ready to go. (I love it when that happens!) So, the original idea is only barely recognizable, but the kernel of it is still part of the finished piece. However, the final story is completely different than the one I had planned!
So, it’s Spring and thus the time for new beginnings. I’m watching for new ideas, new stories, and I can’t wait to see what I write next!