The seeds of imagination

Take these three lines:

“If you’re going to shoot someone you don’t have to check his Outlook calendar first.”

“I have a knife but I’ll just leave it in the car unless I need it.”

“I was just out walking my dog, and boom, a dead body.”

What would you think? Most people might think they should call 9-1-1. Some might chalk it up to eccentric conversation and keep moving.  Others would sidle away from the speaker, perhaps questioning their character.

I’ve actually heard all three of those lines in the past two weeks. I’ve scribbled them away for future use (don’t anyone steal them!). Letting my imagination bubble away.

There’s a story to all three of those snippets of conversation. I know there is. I can imagine my deputy coroner, Tom Burns, saying the first one. I just don’t know the story. Yet. Are they mysteries, thrillers, something else? (I’m betting on mystery. I can’t seem to write anything except my middle-grade stories without a dead body cropping up – but you never know).

That’s where imagination comes in. James Scott Bell (I think – pretty sure) calls it “the boys in the basement.” I’ve tossed down three prompts. Not even full ideas.

Now it’s up to the boys. They’ll let me know when they’re ready.

Mary Sutton | @mary_sutton73


Author: Liz Milliron

Liz Milliron has been making up stories, and creating her own endings for other people's stories, for as long as she can remember. She survived growing up through reading, cutting her mystery teeth on Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark and, of course, Nancy Drew. As an adult, she finds escape from the world of software documentation through creating her own fictional murder and mayhem. She lives near Pittsburgh with her husband and two teenage children, and fantasizes about owning a dog again - one of these days.

15 thoughts on “The seeds of imagination”

  1. Chilling. And what great quotes! It’s so true that lines, glimpses, news articles, and the like all sit in the back of our mind perking away until suddenly, we are in the grip and writing. Well done. Why do I always forget that you are Liz Milliron? One of my favorite authors!


  2. Aww, thanks Kait! Yeah, I’ve got a bit of a split personality going on. It’s because of the middle-grade venture. Someone also reminded me with the first one that anyone with access to your Outlook calendar can make changes. That is also DEFINITELY going in the story!


  3. Such great lines! If you put 10 people in a room and say any of those, I can pick out the writers every time. And what genre they write. Then give us an hour and we’ll have the first draft written!


  4. John Lescroart spoke at Book Passages this year and last year. Last year, he talked about how much trouble he was having getting a start on his next book. So he wrote first lines. Lots of them. 40, 100, I don’t remember. Then he wrote “The body fell straight out of the sky.” This year he was promoting the new book, THE FALL, which was born of that one line. Good book. You got to have a great first line. The first two are good quips but “I was just out walking my dog, and boom, a dead body.” is a first line of a book. Run with it!


  5. Suppose those snippets you overheard were from mystery writers plotting their next story? Their version would be quite different from what your boys in the basement will come up with!


  6. Becky, isn’t that too true?

    Keenan, and my protagonist has a dog. Well, the stories are usually told in close third person, so I’d have to massage it a bit. But those first two almost definitely belong to my deputy coroner and yes, somewhere in the middle of a story.

    Sue, I met with my critique group at a local Panera and a woman came up to us. She’d been listening for a while. “I had no idea so much work went into writing a mystery,” she said. And yes, give that line to 10 different writers–even mystery writers–and you’ll get 10 different stories.


  7. Those are fantastic tidbits you overheard! Definitely fodder for a mystery. And I’m with Keenan, the third one would make a great opening line! 🙂


  8. Great statements to spur the imagination.

    I like to read the back pages of the newspaper and wonder about the “extended stories” that go with the news posts. For example, today’s paper announces that The Blue Door Bar has a new owner who “cleaned up and painted” — What happened to the previous owner? What happened that had to be cleaned up? Why is the door blue? The new owner said “I guess it’s a good luck thing to have a grand opening. ” Why do they need good luck? Was there bad luck before? Why? And that is just the business section.

    Newspapers are great fun.


  9. Great lines indeed! It would be fun to have several writers try their hand at one or another of these and see the differences in the results…. But no, won’t take them—you’ve got dibs! 🙂


  10. Love it! And I love the first lines writing idea–I might have to try that. Jot down nothing but first lines for a few pages. . .hmmm. . .creative juices are flowing! Thanks, Mary for a great post.


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