Saturday, December 27, 2014

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Every writer has been asked how they develop book ideas. Some can discuss a detailed research process and methodical search for the precise subject for a new book. Me? Not so much.

I have gotten some from newspaper clippings, others seem to have just popped into my head. These had to be rooted somewhere. Whatever the source, I have to push to move a passing idea to the reality of a book.

For example, in Ground to a Halt, I wanted 'something bad' to happen to the owner of the coffee shop (Joe) where Jolie and friends hang out – Java Jolt. I wrote two beginnings to the book. One had Jolie and friends sitting in the coffee shop trying to figure out who had harmed him, the other had Jolie seeing Joe soon after he was shot. The second idea won.
However, an idea from the losing option became an important part of the book.

The beginning and end of the mystery tend to flow freely. What I think of as the muddled middle is harder. With the first few books I wrote (not part of the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series) I tended to leave the characters in transit (literally) and then got back to them later. Once they were left on a subway car, another time on a bus. It took awhile to see the pattern.

When I'm stalled, my technique is to write something I think is exciting or mysterious, and then figure the answer. I can do this with the series because the characters have histories. I can anticipate how they will act. Thus, the idea can germinate for a couple of days within the context of characters I know well.

In Ground to a Halt, I wanted the Java Jolt owner to be concerned about someone, but he couldn't make it too easy for Jolie to figure out who was in danger. Thus, when Joe is first injured, he tells Jolie "not to let them hurt him." Then he passes out, and he can't be reached at the hospital immediately. (There, you know he isn't killed early. Or is Joe killed at all?)

The initial phrase was "don't let them hurt her." After a day, the perfect 'him' came to me, complete with the circumstances of the danger. I don't advocate this method of advancing a plot when you're stuck, but it can work.
Rekindling Motives (second in the Jolie Gentil series) proceeded very differently. I find Prohibition fascinating, and wanted to feature it in a book. I read a lot about Prohibition in New Jersey, and then was able to work it into a long-ago murder and one in current time. This probably would not have worked as the first book in the series, as I didn't know the characters as well.

At the moment, I'm developing alternate ideas for a new series. A mid-Atlantic beach was the setting for the Jolie series because I like to be near the ocean. I also like to garden, paint walls, and travel. If I'm going to work with characters for a long time, they have to live in a place I like or do something I want to know more about. It should be an interesting selection process.
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