Ideas — From Where?

Ideas — from where?

Thea Devine here, exasperated once again as a cousin of mine said for the umptieth time, I can’t figure out where you come up with this stuff.  Which is arguably the most frequent question an author is asked:  where do we get ideas?

Well, I have to believe we’re all wired in some way the same way.  So that when I’m  (you’re) at a wedding, I’m (you’re) thinking about murder and kidnapping, or when you’re in the post office, and hear someone say, “they say he started the fire,” my (your) ears prick up, and we’re already thinking, what fire, where, why would he, how did he, was he young, old, was it an accident, or deliberate, what about his family, his friends, was he bullied, goaded, or predisposed?

What is an idea anyway?  It could be one line of dialogue, a premise, a theme, or a full blown plot that invades your imagination and makes your fingers itch.  We all watch the news, read the papers, are plugged into tabloid tv.  But really, the stuff of fiction is usually in the smaller events.  On last night’s local news — a story about six small skeletal bones that were found in a pond.  Whose?  How long were they there?  Who went missing?  Did anybody know?  Was it a cold case? Then what?  Who becomes obsessed by the six small skeletal bones — and why?  And who wants to stop that person from investigating?

Also in the news:  the statue that was beheaded.  It doesn’t have to be religious, although it was. What was someone trying to say by chopping off the head of a plaster statue?  Was there something inside?  Was there a clue to something missing?  Someone’s body part?  A hidden treasure?  Or was it prank, done on a dare — and yet … maybe there’s a legend about the statue.  Maybe someone wants to find out if it was true. But why?

Even more enticing — the reclusive heiress who just died in NY at age 104.  Never married, fabulously wealthy, numerous homes, including three apartments needing major updating in the same building, now up for sale.  And viewing the properties has not been allowed. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  What fascinating clues to the heiress’s life might be hidden in those apartments?  Or revelations?  What mysteries would an interested buyer discover?  Or, if more than one party is bidding on an apartment — why?   What about the heirs?  How distant are they?  How greedy are they?  Who really has a stake in heiress’s death?

Then again, you have only to be nosy, while you’re waiting in the post office,  to discover the woman in front of you, pondering the Stop & Shop circular, is planning three — count them, THREE — Christmas dinner parties.   Well, in my world (wouldn’t it happen in yours?), someone must surely die at one of them, and the hostess is the prime suspect. How many people were invited to each dinner?  Who had it in for the deceased, really?  Or was it a random murder for some other reason?   In the real world however, two or three other women and I “helped” this lady plan her dinners and we all hoped we’d be invited (we weren’t).

Now granted, these are just  jumping off points that hopefully spur plots and enough curiosity to create characters and weave a story.  Sometimes they don’t.  You can’t write every story you think of or want to (really?  I can’t??).

So I write everything down.  Names, words, moments, possible titles, themes, premises, ideas.  Here are some things I jotted down in one of several notebooks:

A Certain Sunday; because she lied;  in love with two brothers — how does choose?;  two rich sisters vying for shock value — one fails, one succeeds and not the ones you think;  when he killed the bird, he killed himself and he killed the song (Jos. Campbell);  he couldn’t have her so he watched over her like a hawk;  had he returned to exact revenge or seek redemption?;   A Place I’ve Never Been  walking the line between danger and death; memories come at a price; destroy someone strong so someone will replace him who is weak and easily defeated; eager to leave, terrified to go.

I haven’t acted on any of these thoughts or ideas yet.  But it doesn’t matter.  They’re there, ready to be accessed when I need them. One of them will be the missing element of a story I’m writing.  One of them will set me off in a new and exciting direction I hadn’t thought about .  One of them (don’t know which one yet) is the key to a best seller.

Where do you get ideas?   Where don’t you?

So where do you get ideas? Do you hate people asking you?  Do you drive your husband crazy when you stop in the middle of a conversation to write things down?  (Can you tell that I do?)

Thea Devine is the USA-Today best selling author whose books defined erotic historical romance.  The Darkest Heart was a June 2011 release from Gallery Books.  She is currently working on a sequel.

11 thoughts on “Ideas — From Where?”

  1. Thea – I see that you are an idea machine too! I’m forever coming up with creative ideas…the hard part is finding the discipline to see them through. Perhaps that’s the make up of a writer…nice to know I’m in such great company!

  2. Oh, Thea! How did you know I’ve been absolutely captivated by that story of the not-just-reclusive-but-apparently-never-photographed-in-50-or-60-years heiress?! Don’t forget the safety deposit box full of jewels, including a 19 carat flawless pink diamond, that hadn’t been opened in about as long? And what about her beautiful sister who died at the age of 17 … or did she???? I get plot ideas from the news all the time — not the wartime or political stuff, but the human interest stories like this one. And yes, I stop to write things down all the time. I have learned to be a bit more detailed in my note-taking, because I have notebooks and slips of paper with cryptic snippets and I just can’t remember why I thought were important 🙂 I’ve been putting those into electronic form (with Evernote), so if I ever do remember, I’ll have them! Thank you so much for this post.

    1. And I’m delighted to know I’m in such terrific company. And that the rest of world (which doesn’t think the way we do, thinks we’re magicians.


    2. It’s those big old NYC apartments — you never know what’s hidden — maybe even the remains of the mysteriously deceased sister?


  3. I also struggle with the ‘too many ideas’ syndrome. It is tough to know which ones to go with, but I also write things down. Great post! I’m glad I’m not alone in this. 🙂

  4. I struggle with the problem of too many ideas. I write them all down, but now that I need to move on to a new work, I can’t really get a grasp on which idea to follow. I too listen to people in check out lines or lines at the post office and wonder … what if. I usually get the start of my ideas from dreams. Thanks Thea … now you have me thinking … I could use that beheaded statue in a WIP.

  5. As you taught me, Thea, they come from everywhere. I even have a folder for all the ideas, this way they don’t clutter my mind and I can write the story I’m in. When I want to start a new story I go the the story idea folder which normally has a chapter or three of the original idea and pick one, Enjoy your week, Marian

  6. Well, I’ll be honest, my mind is not as quick as yours. I have to really focus and ask a lot questions before my plot comes together, but I am working on it, and it gets easier each day.

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