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?


  1. I get a lot of idea from the evening news. My first published novel was inspired by a story on the evening news about a little boy in Italy who had fallen into a well and ultimately died there. As the mother of a toddler at that time (1981), I was deeply affected by that story and asked myself the "what if" questions. What if he had somehow survived without his parents' knowledge? What if he'd grown up as someone else's child but had nightmares of his ordeal? What if memories of his real mother shaped his relationships with women?

    And Alexander's Empire was born....

    1. I like your "what if" questions, Norma! I particularly like how you put the twists on an alternate, "happy" ending. The villain in the upcoming Thea Campbell mystery was taken from an actual newspaper article, too. They are good jumping off places!

  2. I love writing the villain. Getting into that mindset is a lot of fun.

    I recall at the time that volcano in Iceland was erupting and causing a lot of flight disruptions, there was a British author in Ontario, waiting to go home. He chatted with one of the newspapers, remarking on how that natural event was giving him ideas as a writer.

    1. I confess, villains are always a treat for me, too. The villain in Shooting To Kill made my hands sweat when I was writing the dossier.

      The author you met in the airport was doing what so many do -- when you're not having fun ... it's Book Material!!!