Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Something from Nothing

When I got my monthly email about needing an article for a newsletter I contribute to, I’d just sent off my fifth Thea Campbell mystery to the final editor. I was feeling more than a bit tapped-out and was wondering if I would be able to summon any words. I cast about for inspiration and was, pretty much, finding nothing. Then it occurred to me that perhaps inspiration and how we corral it would be a good topic. After all, each of us deal with it – or the lack of it.

What a great idea! I could write about Nothing (notice the capital).

We’ve all been there, right? -- The “I got nothing” for the next book/story. I’ll bet 99% of us have even designed the T-shirt. I’ll also bet we each have a pattern we follow in order to grab inspiration by the throat and tie her to the chair.

I usually start a story with a body. Sometimes I don’t know who it is or how they died, but I know something, and I start to build the plot around that. The organic, story-growing process for me always moves next into why that person has been killed, and then  who would do such a thing.

I know a number or writers who joyfully dive into their story without a single notion of “who done it.” I’ve tried that approach, and it doesn’t work for me. I find I actually enjoy getting to know my villain. Sometimes there are several antagonists and I frankly relish poking around in their warped little minds (a bit of confession here: I freaked myself out researching the villain for this latest mystery) (seriously).

Sometimes it isn’t a character, but an event. Maybe it’s singular, like the I-5 bridge collapse in Mt. Vernon, Washington (we can hope it’s a singular event, although from what I’ve been reading about the state of our state’s bridges, we should worry). Maybe it’s an ongoing social phenomenon like insider trading, or identity theft. Maybe it’s something as old as the ages like sibling rivalry.

Okay, now that I’ve confessed to the Big Void and my usual plan for conquering it, what about you? Do you like to spend quality time with the bad-guys? Are they your inspiration? What kinds of things scream “story material” at you? What stokes the “what if” spark into the kind of fire that makes you write the story?