Wednesday, November 20, 2013

How It Starts

“Where do you get your ideas?” Since becoming a published author that’s, hands down, the question I’ve heard most often. (Though a close second is, “How much money do you make?”)

I wish if the second question has to be asked, the same person would ask both at once so I could reply, “Where I get my ideas is a million dollar question and if I had the answer, how much money I make would not be much of as issue.” But it never works out like that, so I tend to stammer things like “I don’t know” and “Not enough! Ha, ha, ha!”

Like many writers, Stephanie and I start with the characters and our stories are character driven. That certainly isn’t unique or even uncommon but it doesn’t answer the question about inspiration.

I recently spent some time thinking hard about this because we had a book signing coming up and I was sure we’d get that question. Ironically, we did not. I guess they were all too eager get to the refreshment table but that’s okay. I’ve got an answer for next time.

Very often, we start with a piece of dialogue or a passage of introspective thought. We don’t know anything about the character speaking or thinking, much less what they’re going to do but we have a clue.

Our recent release, Simple Gone South, originally started with, “Rita May Sanderson dumped me because she said I didn’t know what a relationship was.” It turned out that the speaker was Brantley Kincaid, a smooth talking blueblood of a golden boy who seemed to have the world by a string. Of course, he didn’t; they never do. Rita May didn’t turn out to be much of anyone important—just an on-again, off-again girlfriend who threw things when she didn’t get her way. From there, the characters were born and the story evolved—as did the first line. Ultimately, it became, “Getting hit in the head with taco will make a man rethink a relationship.” Rethink it, he did. And the heroine stepped up.

Similarly, our work in progress, Secrets Gone South, started with a passage. Arabelle Avery had a name because she was the sister of a hero from an earlier book, but we didn’t know much about her until we sat down at her dressing table one day and took a look at her jewelry.

She reached into her jewelry box for the plain pearl earrings that she wore almost every day, but she got distracted by the heavy gold charm bracelet that took up a lion’s share of real estate in the box. Her life had been chronicled by the charms on that bracelet, starting with the disc bearing her date of birth and ending with the latest, a Santa Claus that had been in her Christmas stocking a few weeks ago. In between, there were miniature milestone markers for almost everything that had ever happened to her. Ballet shoes, birthday cakes, graduation caps, stethoscope—and that was just the start. On the day Arabelle was born, her grandmother had bought the bracelet and the first charm. Then Mimi made it her life's work to fill that bracelet up until she died. It was a thousand wonders that there had not been a little gold casket in the safety deposit box with Arabelle's name on it.

Turns out, Arabelle had a secret charm that she had hidden away and never hung on the bracelet.

There are a few other passages like these hanging around in a file. We don’t even know the names of the characters involved. But it’s very exciting to think of where they might take us.

Here’s one:

“Mama is in there acting like a Wal-mart greeter. She might as well have a punch bowl and a tray of cheese straws,” said sister number one.

“Wal-mart greeters don’t give out punch and cheese straws,” said sister number two.

“It's a bad day. Allow me to mix my metaphors,” said sister number two.

“That's not a metaphor. It would be a metaphor if you said Mama is a Wal-Mart greeter. But never mind. My question is, is she wearing the little blue vest?” asked sister one. 

“No. She's wearing black crepe like a mini series mafia widow,” said sister two.

“Or a spy. Well, one out of three ain't bad. Come on. Let's go bury Daddy,” said sister two.  And they linked arms. 

Where do you start?


Meda White said...

My blog today is about music, and I don't go into detail there, but I do mention I've gotten story ideas from songs. I'll share an example. There's a song by Kenny Chesney called El Cerrito Place. It talks about a man looking for a woman so it spurred the idea- a man has lost the woman he loves and he doesn't know why. Did she run? Was she forced to leave? Did she get hit by a bus? Etc.

So I start with a little idea like that and explore it. I too am a character driven writer, so characters come to me and I think about them for a little while to figure out who they are.

Thank you guys for sharing your process. It gives me hope that I'll get there one day. I enjoy your books very much. Best wishes!

Alicia Hunter Pace said...

Thank you, Meda. You will get there. It just wouldn't be fair if someone as nice as you didn't. Thank your for sharing your process, too. That's the great thing about romance writers I think. We are all so willing to share. I think it's because we write happy books--well, happy at least in the end!

Susanna Cornett said...

Interesting post! I find I'm a story-first person, which sometimes makes it difficult to get into the characters' minds. I have a file (in my brain; I really should write those down) of story ideas I want to do. Several have come from actual events, and more than a few from dreams I have had. I lost a good one this week because I didn't write it down as soon as I woke up :(. I need to be more organized...

Heather said...

Such a great post! Most of the time, my start comes from seeing something odd and wondering, "what if . . . ?" The wonderful thing (or maybe telling, depending how you want to approach it)is I am surrounded by odd things. Half of what goes on in my day job is so unbelievable no editor would accept it as plausible!

Stephanie Jones AKA Alicia Hunter Pace said...

I am a story first person too. I like to keep the action moving! Lucky for us Jean writes super characters so there is really more of a balance in our stories. I joke that if it was just me writing every one of my books would be novellas. :-)

Stephanie Jones AKA Alicia Hunter Pace said...

I bet you see some CRAZY things at work. I like the idea of asking "what if" to get a story started. As the post says we usually don't have any trouble getting a story going but that might be a super exercise for us to talk about!
Thanks for sharing it.