If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

Check out our February author interviews: 2/7-debut author Keenan Powell (Alaskan lawyer), 2/14-Leslie Wheeler (Rattlesnake Hill), 2/21-bestselling author Krista Davis, who unveils a new series, 2/28-Diane Vallere answers my questions about Pajama Frame. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.

Our February Saturday Guest Blogger Schedule: 2/3-Saralyn Richard, 2/10-Kathryn Lane. WWK's Margaret H. Hamilton will blog on 2/17, and Kait Carson on 2/24.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

In addition, our prolific KM has had the following shorts published as well: "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017 and "Turkey Underfoot," appears in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fifth Course of Chaos.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Five Ways to Generate Story Ideas

I’m not surprised anymore when someone finds out that I am a writer and decides they have to give me their idea for a “perfect” story I should write. My response is always the same: I listen, and as soon as is polite, I suggest that they should write the story themselves because it is a story they are excited about. If someone wants to pay me to write their story, we can talk about it; otherwise I want to write my stories.

Here are five ways I find interesting ideas.

1. Eavesdrop. People say and do the most interesting things; all you have to do is pay attention to them. My favorite places to eavesdrop are standing in long lines and eating in restaurants. In both situations you can easily overhear people conversing and observe their behavior. Sometimes I’ll overhear a snippet of conversation and wonder how they got to that line—and therein lies a story. Sometimes, I can’t hear a thing, but I can observe body language and start to wonder about their story—which I then start to invent.

2. Hear something on the radio or read something in the paper that strikes an interesting chord. For example, small-town police blotters are a wonderful source of oddball incidents. Again, I am not interested in lifting the real-life event and transporting it to the page. The incidents suggest precursors or aftermaths that contain the interesting story. I keep a folder of these tidbits and peruse them from time to time.

3. Project a concern or fear I have onto a character or situation. For instance, how would I react if confronted by someone breaking into my house? Would it change if they were armed with an AK-47 and spoke Chinese? What if I were only six? What if I had been six and had repressed it and now fifty years later remembered something—or maybe I thought I did, but in fact I had made it up. Keep spinning the idea until one variation calls out, “Write ME!”

4. If you like Thrillers or Science Fiction, try taking a current trend and pushing it forward to a logical, but startling, conclusion. For example, accelerate the melting of the polar icecaps to the point the Arctic Ocean is open for supertankers for much of the year. Does the Northwest Passage replace the Panama Canal? Does China plan to invade Canada to secure safe shipping for their goods to Europe? Toss your character into that ocean of possibilities and see where it takes you.

5. Take two characters, lock them in a room and consider what would happen. For example, put Rush Limbaugh and Barack Obama in a jail cell together in Caribou, ME. Because of budget cuts, the jailer is part-time. The jailer just went home for the evening. No one knows they are there. Oh yes, they both have diarrhea and there is only one toilet and only a few sheets of toilet paper.

You can consider these kinds of situations with real people, fictional characters, even your close family. Then take what you’ve projected and apply it to fictional characters.

Five approaches from me to generate story ideas; what is your favorite approach?

~ Jim


June Shaw said...

What great ideas! I'm going to save them. Thanks for sharing.

Gloria Alden said...

Good ideas, Jim. I get ideas from the newspaper or the radio, too. But I also listen to other's conversations or observe people. In my next book, I use a short conversation I heard years ago in a restaurant while waiting for my sister. One woman said, "She raises pugs." The other woman asked, "What are they?" I added to that little bit of snippet in my first chapter of my 2nd book between two friends in a restaurant. The pug is a pet of two important characters not yet introduced. It's funny how a little bit of conversation that isn't all that interesting, can stick with you and become words in a book.

E. B. Davis said...

I never thought of those, Jim. I find if someone gives me a topic, any topic, I try to create a story about it. At least that is what happens when I write short stories. Books usually have many stories within so multiple ideas must occur, intersect and solidify. A perfect example is Peter Robinson's latest, Watching the Dark, in which three stories come together. It's good!

katewyland.com said...

Cool ideas.
I was walking near a San Francisco beach one time and this guy started "fighting" with a wall - doing martial arts moves. I couldn't resist incorporating a similar scene in my Wyoming Escape book.
Funny where ideas come from.

Sasscer Hill said...

eSometimes someone will tell me about something ridiculous that happened to them and I will say, "This is so going into a book." Then there are the people or events in my life that affected me in a negative way. They always find their way into a book if only because I'm struggling to "fix" what happened or give the person a little fictional justice. Very cathartic and makes for good writing, too.

Joanne Guidoccio said...

Excellent ideas, Jim! After reading #3, an idea for a short story came to mind. Thanks for sharing :)

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Kate -- I agree you never know when an idea will present itself. Being open to see and hear what's going on leads to all sorts of interesting things.

Sasscer -- At Writers Who Kill we know how to take care of fictional characters who need justice, and you're right it can be cathartic!

Joanne -- Thanks. You'll have to let us all know when that story gets into print (or cyberspace) so we can check it out.

~ Jim

Paula Gail Benson said...

These are great ideas, Jim. I went to several events this weekend. I soaked up atmosphere and conversations. Now, I'm ready to write! Thanks!

Carla Damron said...

oh, yeah. Eavesdropping is a great idea. Poor unsuspecting strangers ... (tee hee).