Probably the question authors hear most from inquisitive readers is, “Where do you get your ideas?” And of course the quantity and variety of answers rivals the stars in the sky—the possibilities are endless. I write suspense fiction—mysteries, thrillers, capers, heists, and so on—which almost always involve a crime of some kind. May I suggest that a large proportion of ideas for crime fiction are sparked by emotion.
Suspense fiction tends to center around people entangled by strong emotions—vengeance, love, passion, greed, rage, unbearable loss. These are the motivations behind the crimes they commit. So I pay attention to emotions I feel or imagine others are feeling. We are all vulnerable to self-deception, manipulation, obsessions and so on. Thinking about the emotions that might stem from certain events will often start the seed of a story idea growing in my head.
The passion that carries the flame
Of course, it’s always more fun to write about those topics I’m passionate about, and I think my enthusiasm probably carries over for the reader in a sort of mental contagion. Anyone reading Nocturne In Ashes or Death of a Muse will probably get a sense that I love and care about music and nature.
I’m also fascinated by human behavior and psychology. Like most writers, I’m a people watcher and an eavesdropper. Public scenes witnessed and conversations overheard have spawned many a story idea for me. People in unusual circumstances lead me to wonder what event or series of events happened to bring them to where they are now.
The surroundings that fan the fire
Internet and newspaper headlines are rife with material that fairly bursts into a flame of story with merely a glance. The conflict inherent in politics, economics, and social life easily lends itself to the development of crime fiction plots.
And atmosphere—that rich aura that surrounds some places, whether it be serene, exciting, foreboding, creepy, or downright dangerous. Visiting certain places fires my imagination. There’s a corner in the city of Athens that inspired a tense chase scene in a novel I’m working on. I lived outside the wall of a large German castle for four years, inspiration for my novella, The Tower. And many of my stories, including A Touch of Native Color and What Leads A Man To Murder, are set in the Puget Sound area where I currently live, in a quaint seaside village.
The pages that bring it all home
Every time I read a story, I find so many threads to follow to other stories, should I care to pursue them. Usually this is a result of wondering about the perspectives of different characters. Have you heard of the Rashomon Effect? Here’s how Wikipedia explains it:
“The Rashomon effect occurs when an event is given contradictory interpretations by the individuals involved. The effect is named after Akira Kurosawa‘s 1950 film Rashomon, in which a murder is described in four contradictory ways by four witnesses. The term addresses the motives, mechanism and occurrences of the reporting on the circumstance and addresses contested interpretations of events, the existence of disagreements regarding the evidence of events and subjectivity versus objectivity in human perception, memory and reporting.”
In other words, the story changes depending on who is telling it. The movie Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is told from the point of view of two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Every time I read a book, my fancy takes off as I wonder about how things might be different if looked at another way or by another character.
In short, there is no shortage of ideas for stories. There are countless ways to fire the imagination, feed it, and keep it burning. And it all starts with just a spark.
How about you? Do you ever get story ideas from watching people or listening to the conversation of strangers? Do you enjoy reading books set in places you’ve been? Tell us about it in the comments.