Finally, someone has asked me the right question. Instead of the perennial, where do you get your ideas? (and, by the way, the store in Toledo is having a half-off sale ) I was recently asked, how do you turn an idea into a story?
Ahhh, very good question.
I’m a seats of the pants writer˜although I prefer to call myself an ABC writer: Apply Butt to Chair and get the job done. What works for me may not work for everyone. But, here’s how I do it.
The original idea can be anything. A news story, a snippet of conversation overheard, a character who gets into my head and won’t leave, clamoring to have their story told.
Sometimes it’s a broad theme that I want to explore. For instance, the standalone I just finished, BLIND FAITH (a woman searches for the graves of her murdered husband and son only to discover they’re still alive) revolves around the theme of betrayal. Check out my last post (Sparks and Synchronicity) for more details on how this story evolved and where the idea came from.
My current wip, the third in the Hart and Drake series, is all about obsession. Almost every scene has a character so overwhelmed by an idea or desire that he/she is blinded to what’s really important. Working with the series is a little different, because I already know these characters so well˜just give me that inciting idea and I’ll have them off and running in no time flat.
Working with a standalone where I have no idea who the characters are or what’s going to happen next is a bit more of a challenge. Usually, the initial idea comes with a scene attached˜all the sudden I wake up with this vivid image of someone doing something and I can’t let it go until I write it down. Often this is the opening scene or a major turning point in the book.
So now I have both an idea and a character to go with it. This is all I need to start writing and quickly I will discover the theme of the book˜that missing link that drives the story. For me, those three ingredients: idea, character, theme, are more important than plot. The plot IS the collision of character with theme, it evolves from knowing my character and idea.
Let’s say my initial idea is about a cop who trusts no one except her partner. The scene that has grabbed me has this cop and her partner arriving at an armed robbery not realizing that it’s a set up. The badguy isn’t there to rob the store, he’s there to kill some cops. Her partner is blown away in front of her and she’s shot and left for dead.
Just with this one scene, I know a lot about my main character. Her default action in any situation will be first, to take action (she won’t be a passive observer), and second to protect (just like she tried to do for her partner). She won’t trust anyone to do this as well as she can and, now that her partner is dead, she won’t trust anyone to protect her except herself.
Now, I get down right mean. Once I know where my character’s comfort zone is (for the cop it’s trust no one and take action) then I start pushing them out of it, forcing them into conflict and eventually to change. From this opening scene, I already know the theme, trust, and the major conflict of the story˜she’s going to have to learn to trust others. And I know the major turning points will involve her using her old default actions: not trusting, trying to protect others herself AND failing. AND failing some more. And then, when everything she cares about and everyone she loves is at stake, I’ll have her˜you got it˜fail again.
Hmmm∑.this is starting to sound like fun. I foresee a high body count in this novel.
So, how do I torture this particular character to set up these conflicts? Well, in my initial idea I had her left for dead, why not actually kill her? She’s not the kind of person who would believe in anything other than what she can see, feel, hear, touch, so why not bring her back from the dead with psychic visions? Of course, she won’t trust these visions˜but since they’re in her own head, does that mean she’s crazy, can’t trust herself?
Now I have a character whose default action is to take action but she can’t because she’s critically wounded, she can’t trust her body. I have a character who trusts no one else but who now can’t trust her own mind. What else can I do to increase the stakes?
What if the badguy starts targeting her cop friends˜he’s fixated on her because she escaped the death he had orchestrated so carefully, so he’s not only going to take revenge, he’s going to taunt her with the fact that she’ll be responsible for everyone he kills from now on. And what if her new psychic visions allow her to predict those deaths˜but no one trusts her or will listen to her?
Oh, and what if, after she tries to warn the police about the next targets, they start to think she’s actually working with the badguy and go after her as a suspect?
Now she’s lost everything she held dear: her partner, her job (can’t be a cop if you’re having black outs like she has with her visions), her physical strength, her sense of self (is she crazy, who is she now that she’s not a cop?), her allies have turned against her and she can’t protect the people around her from a madman.
That’s how my idea of a cop who trusts no one evolved into my story, BORROWED TIME.
No, sorry, you can’t go out and buy it˜at least not yet, fingers crossed it might sell soon.
Anyone else want to share their methods?
Thanks for reading!
No one is immune to danger…
BLINK OF AN EYE “is a perfect blend of romance and suspense.” –Sandra Brown
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