Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ideas, And Where They Come From

Where do you get your ideas?

That’s a question writers hear all the time. The simple truth is, people (all people) are constantly bombarded with creative seed-germs. The difference is, writers use their imagination to transform these seeds into something more while others take them for granted.

There’s nothing magic in the process. Ideas, and their source material, are all around us. A snatch of overheard conversation. The appearance or action of a particular person. An article in a newspaper or magazine. Transformation begins when we ask the question, “what if…”

For instance, arsenic and chloroform both play a part in Fallen From Grace (coming soon from Oak Tree Press), which involves a 19th century sheriff whose dull small town routine is upset by murder.

In my other life as a genealogist, I scour a lot of old newspapers. It was in these I discovered both compounds were readily available to the public in the 19th century, as were cocaine, opium, mercury and a host of other chemicals we now know for their harmful aspects. Our ancestors were more blasé in their attitude toward these compounds for which they found a host of uses.

The use of chloroform as anesthetic became common after 1853 when it was administered to Queen Victoria for the delivery of Prince Leopold. Anyone with a quarter could buy a quantity at the corner store and it was used for such routine purposes as removing stains from carpets and quelling bees in a hive.

On the darker side, addicts also discovered they could get a “buzz” from inhaling it. And it wasn’t long before it became an aid to suicide.

As to arsenic, we know its deadly potential. But in the 19th century it was a common ingredient in over-the-counter medications and had many household uses, including as a skin cleanser and laxative. Those probably aren’t historic precedents anyone wants to continue.

They did, however, stimulate my imagination and provide crucial elements for the novel.

As Joseph Conrad so aptly put it, “Only in men’s imagination does every truth find an effective and undeniable existence. Imagination, not invention, is the supreme master of art as of life.”


Sunny Frazier said...

Your method is one I use to plot short stories. I remember reading a small paragraph in the paper about a man and his mistress trying to kill the wife by injecting liquid nicotine into chocolate covered cherries. That's all I needed to write "True Confections," one of my best selling stories to date.

One tidbit of knowledge goes a long way.

Holli said...

I tend to loosely base a lot of what I write on cases I've handled on both sides of the law, letting one aspect of a case spawn a plot line or a subplot.

I also get character ideas and sometimes names from looking at people in the obituaries.

Holli Castillo

Kit Sloane said...

I listen. My daughter and her partner are both in the Hollywood "business" (as are my protagonists) and, when we're visiting, I simply listen to Annie and Marc when they come home from work or when we're guests on a set. That's when all the tales emerge from frustration and tiredness. Makes for great stories to write, all of which are based on "true" tales!


jack59 said...

Most of my good ones come in bed; especially when I'm in that half state between sleeping and awakening. I have a voice recorder charged up which is good enough to pick up whispers so as not to wake the spouse.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Mine come from everwhere, stories told to me by friends--some of whom are cops, talks at my chapter of Sisters in Crime, newstories, eavesdropping.


Stephen L. Brayton said...

Ideas can come to you walking down the street, sitting in the coffee bar, goig to school, sitting by the riverbank, or, like the idea for Night Shadows, listening to the radio. That's one of the fun things about writing.