The question I get asked more than anything is, “Where do you come up with your story ideas? I could never think of a story like that.” And my answer is always the same: “Yes, you could because everything is a story.” That’s how I try to approach life in general. Everything is an adventure, and every event in your life, no matter how small, has worth.
To come up with a really juicy plot point, I take a true event, a little imagination, and I start to spin.
Now, at this point, you may be saying, “Well, nothing ever happens to me that could be made into a story.” I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong.
All you have to do is ask yourself, “what if?” and “suppose that…”
Real Life Is the Best Place to Find Adventure
I’ll give you a good example of how I employ these tactics in my life. I am always on the lookout for a good story idea because I never know when one is going to hit. Sometimes, I work hard at creating one very particular plot point. And other days, a spark of inspiration will come running out of nowhere and smack me upside the head.
Yesterday, I received a very large box from Amazon. (Sometimes I get insomnia and place orders at 2 a.m. then don’t remember for the life of me what I bought, but that’s another story.) Anyway, I went to open this big box, and my mind started to run wild.
• What if there’s a human head inside?
• Suppose that the killer is mailing out body parts in Amazon boxes in an effort to implicate me in a murder.
Those two questions spark many more. Whose head is it? How are they connected to me? Who would send it to me? Why would they want to implicate me? And the list goes on. That was when I abandoned the box and grabbed my computer to start writing things down as they came into my head. And that is key: write down everything! Once you start jotting down your ideas, your brain will start feeding you more, and before you know it, you’ll have a great list with some truly golden little nuggets to use in your next book!
Now, some of my friends would tell me I’m twisted when I receive an Instant Pot in the mail and somehow turn it into a severed head, but hey, I’m a writer. And they’re used my crazy by now… for the most part. Nonetheless, I prefer the term creative. 🙂
Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction
If you’re struggling with ideas, and the UPS man hasn’t shown up to your house lately with mysterious packages, I look to two other things that always help create a spark. The first of those is reading the news. I’ve read interview after interview with authors who are notorious news hounds. And the reason is simple—truth really is stranger than fiction.
For my last book, Brewing Up Murder, I came up with my main plot point from a news article. The news is an amazing place to get ideas. Websites like Websleuths or Crime Online are so fascinating. It’s easy for me to get sucked in, and before I know it, my coffee has gone cold, it’s one hour later, and I’m engrossed in a story about a strange squatter secretly living in someone’s attic in Australia. In retrospect, I may have seen that same plot point on CSI. Maybe that’s how they get their ideas too.
I also love to peruse those news of the weird articles. They are incredible for tossing out these huge nuggets of obscure information that an author can take and run with.
One idea I came up with stemmed from an article I read the other day about cars that had been recalled because the steering wheel could come off while a person is driving. That sounds like a dangerous situation in itself, but…
What if the steering wheel didn’t just come off but caused an explosion while the person was driving?
Suppose that someone wanted to kill you, so they rigged your car to make the steering wheel explode and tried to pass it off as a manufacturer’s default.
This is just one example, but you can do this with any news story. Don’t believe me? Here are actual headlines from two news articles I came across this morning. I want you to ask yourself “what if” and “suppose that” and see what you can come up with.
• Couples Mystery Toilet Flusher Turns Out To Be Something Pretty Scary
• Law Enforcement is Facing Fallout from a New Drug that Induces Self-Harm
Where’s the best place to hide a body?
When all else fails, there is nothing better than going and hanging out at my favorite coffee shop. Not only for coffee and cream cheese almond pockets (Yum!), but just so I can sit and people-watch. My husband, who thank God is used to the weird places my brain goes, was witness to this last event as he sat across from me in a coffee shop, eating his scone. The exchange went something like this:
Hubby: What do you keep looking at?
Me: The woman behind the counter. Have you noticed she keeps going in the back? Like a lot?
Hubby: Um, okay…
Me: What do you think she has back there that she’s so concerned about?
Hubby: Oh, God.
Me: What if it’s a body? What if she got into an altercation with the store owner before the place opened this morning and she killed him? Suppose that she didn’t have time to properly hide the body, and now she’s trying to do it before someone finds out. Where do you think the best place is to hide a body in here, anyway?
Hubby: *Blink. Blink. Sips coffee.*
Another thing I love to do is create fictional scenarios for the people sitting at other tables. If you go into a crowded coffee shop on a Saturday morning, you will invariably find at least one couple who is involved in a very intense conversation, or on occasion, you will find one person crying while having a very intense conversation. I always like to make up what those people are talking about.
I’m pretty sure the wiry man in the purple coat that I saw at the coffee shop on Saturday may have witnessed a murder. He looked very tired, so I imagined that he didn’t sleep well the night before. What if he was up at 2 a.m. and happened to look out his bedroom window? Suppose that his window overlooked his neighbor’s kitchen window. What if his neighbor’s hands were covered in blood and he was washing a very large knife? Suppose that the neighbor’s wife hasn’t been seen since then?
The possibilities are endless.
Those are just a few tools I use to kick-start my brain into coming up with some new ideas. Is every idea going to be a winner? Of course not. But if you do some of these “what if/suppose that” exercises and let your imagination run wild, you will be surprised with what you can come up with. Just keep that in mind, especially the next time a stranger rings your doorbell, or the next time you’re perusing the news online, or the next time you head to Applebee’s for a late-night snack. There are story ideas all around you.
Like I said, everything is an adventure.
In addition to writing cozy mysteries, this Midwestern girl is a lover of coffee, live music, and horror movies, not necessarily in that order.