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Ideas: Where do they come from?

March 19, 2013

People frequently ask writers: “Where do you get your ideas?” Different writers use different words to frame an answer but they all boil down to the same thing: from anywhere and everywhere.

The inspiration for my novel, By Whose Hand, came from a book on bywhosehandgraphology I picked up at a used book sale. I didn’t have a plan in mind when I bought the book, but the instant I spied it I knew it was a must-have resource for a mystery writer.

My Jennie Connors/Riverview Manor series is set in a retirement community where the residents are mobile, alert and just bored enough to stir up trouble. With this setting in mind, it wasn’t much of a stretch to come up with Tess, a 74-year-old former FBI agent whose specialty was . . . you guessed it . . . graphology. After that, I can’t really say I created Tess. She pretty much stood at my shoulder and told me who she was. With her standing so close, it was impossible not to know how she looked: like the quintessential grandmother with tight gray curls and brown eyes that gave no hint of her thoughts. She usually wears loose-fitting trousers and an oversized cardigan with a white linen handkerchief escaping from a pocket. The pockets are important. Tess insists on pockets. She never knows when she’ll need an inconspicious hiding place. She likes muted colors. Nothing flashy. Her goal is to blend, not impress

 The real fun began when I started creating a handwriting style for each of my suspects. To test the theories set forth in the book, I filled several pages of unlined paper with my own random thoughts, then checked my script against the samples in the book. I agreed with about half of the analysis and asked my husband about the areas where I didn’t agree. His answer: “Oh, yeah!” Okay. Enough said. I was convinced that handwriting analysis is a good indicator of character.

It’s not a simple thing. There are a surprising number of elements are to consider. For example, I had no idea how much is revealed in the way each person forms capital letters, especially the personal pronoun “I” or how important the connecting strokes are. Also to be considered are the degree and direction of slant. If you would like to read a short scene wherein Tess helps Jennie analyze her suspects by examining their handwriting, please visit my website:

 This is just one example of the genesis of an idea around which to build a story. It could just as easily be a single leaf remaining on a tree after all the others have fallen. Or a line from a song that gets stuck in your head. Or an old photograph. A glimpse of an old man staring out of a bus window. A reflection in a puddle. The scent of lilacs. The possibilities are limitless and, as I said before, are anywhere and everywhere.

 Waiting for me in my bookcase is another book I picked up at a book sale: The Code Book, The Evolution of Secrecy from Mary Queen of Scots to Quantum Cryptography, by Simon Singh. There has to be material for a great mystery in those pages.

 How about you? Where do you find inspiration? Leave a comment and you might win a copy of By Whose Hand.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2013 4:13 PM

    Jeepers! I just popped over to Sandy’s website to read the excerpt, and trust me, I’m never going to write anything down again! Just kidding of course…but it’s fascinating.

    • March 19, 2013 4:33 PM

      It’s fascinating to me too (obviously), but now that we can hide behind our computer keyboards, it must be a lot harder to find something to analyze. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. March 19, 2013 7:14 PM

    It could just as easily be a single leaf remaining on a tree after all the others have fallen. Or a line from a song that gets stuck in your head. Or an old photograph. A glimpse of an old man staring out of a bus window. A reflection in a puddle. The scent of lilacs.

    Beautifully put, Sandy. My ideas pool has been dry for a while. Your post is just a wonderful reminder of how exciting the creative process is.

    Thank you.

    • March 19, 2013 7:32 PM

      Thanks, Carmen. I’m sure your idea pool is just temporarily dormant. Don’t forget, you have two wonderfully imaginative books out there.

  3. March 20, 2013 7:17 AM

    Good post, Sandy. It inspires me. Photographs, people on the street, news items–there’s so much when we open our minds and imaginations.

    • March 20, 2013 9:15 AM

      Ellis, I think you’ve pinpointed the source of all inspiration – keeping our minds and imaginations open. Thanks. Good to see you here.

  4. March 20, 2013 9:18 AM

    Interesting post, Sandy. I enjoy reading how other authors get their inspiration to write. Your experiences stirred up some ideas of my own.

    • March 20, 2013 1:30 PM

      Thanks, Sydell. I think one of the best things about being a writer is sharing ideas with other writers. I love the fact that we all bring our own interpretation to what we see and hear.

  5. March 20, 2013 1:11 PM

    I’m a certified graphologist so I found your book fascinating. They say write about what you know but I never dreamt of writing about graphology. Congratualations. My ideas for books come from so many sources, newspapers, facts from historical books, comments some one makes, something I see, etc. After a visit to Fort Laramie, Wyoming, I left with an idea to write a story about an emigrant child and a Sioux Indian child and sold it.

    • March 20, 2013 1:32 PM

      Mary, I had no idea you were a graphologist. Since I’m writing a series, I know there will be other instances when Tess’s knowledge will be needed. I hope I can call on you for help. Thanks for taking time to leave a comment.

  6. March 20, 2013 2:00 PM

    Wonderful post, Sandy. I get ideas from all over, too. I found the handwriting analysis interesting. Years ago I came across something like that – maybe a book, but I don’t remember. Anyway, my whole family had fun with it. My mother didn’t know whether to be pleased or annoyed when we decided her capital I showed her to be either a genius or insane.

    • March 20, 2013 6:33 PM

      Had to laugh when I read your comment, Gloria. I hope you all assured your mother she’s a genius. Thanks for sharing and for the laugh.

  7. March 20, 2013 5:43 PM

    Interesting post Sandy, as is the excerpt on your website. Having read that, I dread to think what my writing says about me!

    I love hearing about the ideas behind a book. Serendipity plays a big part in mine.My latest book was prompted by listening to a jazz band, something that I didn’t know was going to happen until about 2 hours before the event.

    • March 20, 2013 6:34 PM

      Serendipity is probably the best source of inspiration for any of us. We just have to, as Ellis said in an earlier comment, keep our minds and imaginations open. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. March 21, 2013 9:34 AM

    Inspiring post! Thanks for sharing, Sandy 🙂

    Inspiration can come from the most unlikely of sources. Like Sheila, serendipity also played a role in the conception of my book. On a whim, I attended a short story workshop facilitated by a science fiction writer. Most of her examples related to werewolves, vampires, robots and other fantasy elements. While the other participants in the room read and wrote either fantasy or science fiction, I had steered clear of both genres. Driving home, I wondered if I could ever write fantasy. I thought back to the fairy tales from my childhood and recalled my favorite, The Little Mermaid.

    What if…

    A beautiful mermaid is suddenly transformed into a middle-aged woman and abandoned by her horrified lover on the fog-drenched shores of southwest England.

    I sat down and wrote BETWEEN LAND AND SEA.

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