Falling is the first thing that fired my imagination and showed me how to find ideas.
I was lucky enough to be born on a small farm—not a working farm but what my family called a “gentleman’s farm.” For me, it was an idyllic, 12-acre playground of sheer heaven. My sister and I had climbing trees and sledding hills and blackberry bushes and a creek for wading. Bossie the Cow terrorized us, patrolling her pasture from our encroachments when we went hunting for litters of kittens in miscellaneous sheds. We had our very own forest of Christmas trees, and the fields next to the forest hid the original corn maze.
But one of the best parts of life on that farm was raking autumn leaves into gigantic piles near the road. Those leaf piles were taller than me at age 5. The game started whenever we heard a car coming. My sister and I had to race each other to the leaf pile and fall into it, smothering ourselves with earthy smells of dried leaves. We had to hide ourselves completely, falling into the leaves, before the car appeared. Otherwise, the bank robbers who were probably driving by would surely catch us spying on them, and capture us into their world of crime, or… Well, who knew?
And thus began my career of spinning tales. My first ideas came from my own imagination, firing in those leaf piles. We all hear this question over and over: where do you get your ideas? Here are five of my favorite sources for ideas:
1. Imagination. Some hidden recess of the brain generates the weird stuff, either through a flash of apparently unprompted inspiration, or a Technicolor dream. Don’t ask, just grab it and run with it.
2. Overheard snippets of conversation. For example, last night at dinner in my favorite local restaurant, I overheard one man tell his dinner partner (another man): “you’re either married, or you’re not married.” Well, yes…but, hmmm. What made him say that? There’s a story here.
3. Local newspaper. Useful for 3 reasons: advertisements, lining the bird cage, and triggers for stories. For instance, in today’s paper there’s a story about an office building that had to be evacuated for a gas leak. Uh-huh. A deliberate leak? Why?
4. Therapy. When something or someone bugs you, in the form of lack of consideration, or political or religious fanaticism, or whatever, no problem. Just put them in a mystery novel and do mean things to them.
5. The What-If Game. My personal favorite! So… What if I made my detective an amateur artist, and he decided to go plein aire painting along the creek, and then what if he discovered a body there, half-submerged, and what if… And so on and so on. Pretty soon, there’s a story.
Tomes have been written on this subject of finding ideas, but these are just a few of my favorite sources. What are some of yours?