Inspiration for writers is everywhere
I learned that fact in a story development class in college. Our professor, a former development executive for a film studio, gave us an assignment: read through the latest news and choose one story to use as a springboard for a five-page synopsis. Only one? I found at least fifty. Dear Abby letters provided ideas for melodramas and the business section yielded plots for embezzlement scandals. I chose a story about national security and wrote my synopsis about a recently divorced CIA agent who gets romantically involved with a liberal journalist while trying to solve terrorist attacks. My story had so many twists and turns even my professor didn’t see the end coming. I got an A. I won’t divulge more—maybe you’ll see it on the big screen one day.
Get out in your community to tap local events for stimulation. I discovered the medical examiner from a neighboring county was speaking about forensics at a local museum so I attended. I gained valuable information about death investigation and was struck with a great idea for an historical mystery.
I love to peruse the websites of police and sheriff offices to research crimes, suspects and victims. There are often press releases with details about crimes they are investigating. Other useful websites that provide information on missing persons, cold cases and unidentified remains are The Charley Project (www.charleyproject.org) and The Doe Network (www.doenetwork.org). One warning: the photos on the site are not graphic, but the details and descriptions of the found remains can be.
Move over darling
I’ve spent time wandering through cemeteries in places like England and Massachusetts reading headstones and wondering about the lives of their namesakes. Any cemetery will do when searching for story ideas. Take your time, wander around and read the grave markers: each grave is itself a profusion of life and death from which to draw. These visits can also help to inspire adding paranormal touches to a story.
If you want to visit famous cemeteries but you don’t have time or money to travel far and have exhausted your local digs—pardon the pun—search their websites for information and photos. Don’t forget to visit to a local cemetery when you travel. Once on a business trip I used free hours to visit an old, spooky plantation with a private cemetery. It didn’t take long to experience a place rich in history that provided inspiration unlike any I can find in my area.
Hit the road Jack
In real estate location is everything. In your story it can be, too. Locations, both small towns and major cities, can provide an author with a plethora of ideas for characters and crimes. CRUCIFYING ANGEL is a new crime thriller set in Las Vegas and the surrounding desert of southern Nevada. Author P.I. Barrington used her familiarity with the area for locations. “Spending time in Vegas it was easy to come up with a theme for the hotel/casino/resort of The Amazon in Crucifying Angel. I could describe the landscape, climate, city descriptions, citizens, pretty much everything even the subcultures in the more seedy parts of town.”
It’s easy for a writer to hide behind a flat screen and expect the words to flow. It’s challenging to go out and experience what your character would. Life gives a limited number of weekends so use them to explore. The reader wants to escape and you are their travel agent.
What a way to go
Methods of murder can bring a twist to a plot. Even the most common locale can be spiced up with a unique approach of removing characters. “I used oleander poisoning in one book.” responds Sue Ann Jaffarian, author of the Odelia Gray and Granny Apples mysteries, when asked the most unusual way she murdered a character. In CRUCIFYING ANGEL Barrington advises that her serial killer “…crucifies his victims upside down. He’s one twisted puppy.” Twisted? Perhaps, but it takes a memorable murder scene to make the plot stand out from the crowd.
More often than not it is the way in which the victims are killed that can provide a variety of scenes, situations, and clues to entertain the reader. While gunshots have been done to death, a story is more likely to remain embedded in the readers mind if you tantalize them with an unusual murder.
You look familiar
Charles Dickens was a master at creating memorable characters, most of which were modeled after people that he observed around him. Many present day writers also look to friends, family and co-workers for inspiration, though you do not have to model your characters on their entire personality.
“Most of my characters don’t come from real life people or they’ll have a small aspect of someone’s personality.” Barrington explains. “I am a terrible public place eavesdropper. I listen to conversations in restaurants, coffee shops, and shopping malls. That helps later when you’re trying to create believable dialogue for a character.”
Adding interesting traits, habits, and faults brings the characters to life. Some of the most interesting experiences come from people you know, so tap their brains to add depth to your characters.
I write therefore I am
A writer is never without inspiration, as long as they keep an open mind. A few years have passed since my professor requested that synopsis but I still keep a few binders filled with interesting stories and every now and then I read one that I know would make a great mystery so I pop it into a binder. When I need some inspiration I browse through and find articles about underwater caves, sunken treasure ships, roman chariots, Hobbit-like bones being discovered and mermaid sightings. The possibilities are endless. Except for the Hobbit thing. That’s been done.
Loni Emmert is the co-author of BUTTON HOLLOW CHRONICLES #1: THE LEAF PEEPER MURDERS available August 2010 from Mainly Murder Press. She is a member of SinC, RWA and writes articles on writing, reading and other related topics. (http://thewordmistresses.com)