Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What’s Wrong With Asking Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

By Tracy Kiely

To be honest, I don’t mind this question probably because I’ve asked it myself on numerous occasions. I enjoy hearing what sparked a particular idea for a mystery. I think the answers can help a writer look at events and relationships in their own world a little differently and see the potential for inspiration. I had one teacher who told a story of a huge storm that had blown through this sleepy little southern town. Power lines were down and massive trees were uprooted. She passed by one house where an ancient oak tree lay on its side, its roots exposed and spilling all over the yard. She then had a sudden image of skeleton partially uncovered amidst the roots. She next thought of a family gathered on the front porch staring in horror at this discovery – all except for one. In her mind’s eye, she saw an elderly, frail woman, dressed all in black, her expression calm in the face of this gruesome discovery.   
One of my all-time favorite authors, Elizabeth Peters, once told how she came up with the idea for her book, Be Buried In The Rain. She was driving along a back road in rural Maryland and came upon a large black trash bag that had been dumped along the side of the road. What kind of person would dump a bag of trash along such a scenic road, she wondered? She thought about it as she drove and soon came up with her story, which involved a lonely road and the grim discovery of the skeletons of a mother and child.

Ideas are all around us, if you are open to them. But, obviously a good story is more than just the idea. As everyone else has said, it’s what you do with the idea that matters. Let’s say you have eggs, sugar, butter and flour. Will this make a good cake? Who knows? It’s how you put together those ingredients that maters.

4 comments:

Susan C Shea said...

Tracy, your comment about the black trash bag resonated with me. Since childhood, I have had a ghoulish response to seeing a single shoe on any road - for some reason rooted in a 5-year old's attempt to make sense of something, I flash on the thought that it's from a dead person. You remind me I ought to do something with that since it's so strong and visceral.

Catriona McPherson said...

Absolutely! It always surprises me if people *don't* think of a corpse. A dumpster, a rolled carpet, anything - seriously, anything - floating in water.

Lori Rader-Day said...

My husband thinks I'm ghoulish because I'm always pointing out opportunities for crime stories.

Meredith Cole said...

How funny, Lori! Your husband is clearly not a crime writer... It's impossible for me (like Catriona) NOT to think of all the strange and horrible possibilities when we see something off...

You're right, Tracy, hearing about how other writers are open and observant to everything around them is very inspiring...