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Where Did the Idea Come From?

November 3, 2014

If you’re a writer, I’m sure you’ve been asked that question. If you’re not a writer, but have friends who are, you’ve probably asked it and have been given a different answer each time. Here’s what my friend, Karen McCullough, has to say:

Karen_McCullough_2013It’s the question authors get asked most often by non-writers: Where do you get your ideas? Most authors have some sort of flip answer: an idea store in Schenectady or the idea tree behind my house. Why don’t we just say something like, I read this story in the newspaper and it inspired me to write this book? Mostly because that’s not what happens.

The basic problem is that it’s the wrong question. Ideas are easy. They’re all over the place. I have more ideas in my head now than I’ll ever be able to write. But it takes multiple ideas to create a novel and they have to fit together in ways that are both comfortable and uncomfortable. Ideas don’t make a novel. Conflict does. Plot does. Characters do. It takes work to meld a group of ideas about conflict and character and events into a cohesive plot.

The Detective’s Dilemma started for me with the first scene of the book, when intruders in her home brutally force Sarah Martin to Detectives_Dilemma_200shoot her much older lover. I can’t remember exactly when that scene popped into my head, but it came to me as a vivid vision. From there I had to build a story, and I knew that I wanted it to be about more than just the police investigating the murder and figuring out who was really behind it. Of course, that is the spine of the story. But there’s a lot more going on.

I thought a lot about Sarah Anne Martin. Why was she living with a much older lover? Who is she? What kind of life does this young woman have and what does she want? I had to make her a person with a personality, with desires and aspirations, and with problems that would get far worse before they got better. She proved to be someone trying to rebuild a life that had been shattered more than once and struggling to create a place for herself in the world.

When the police detectives showed up, Jay Christianson walked on the scene. He has issues as well. He started with a prejudice against Sarah because he’d already been burned once when he got involved with a woman in distress. He doesn’t want to believe in Sarah’s innocence initially and he most definitely doesn’t want to fall for a young woman who is the prime witness and possibly the prime suspect in a murder case.

To add another complication, it becomes clear fairly quickly that Sarah has something the killers want. Unfortunately, she has no idea what it is or where it is, but they get increasingly desperate to get it from her or make sure she’ll never get a chance to find it.

It took a great deal of mental work to bring all those threads of character, events, conflicts and plot into a 65,000-word novel.

 The Detective’s Dilemma is a short romantic suspense novel published in paperback and ebook by Kensington’s Lyrical Press imprint. If you would like to learn more about Karen McCullough and The Detective’s Dilemma, there’s a short bio of Karen and a brief excerpt from the book on the Guest Excerpt page of my website: 

8 Comments leave one →
  1. judyalter permalink
    November 5, 2014 11:12 AM

    Thanks for a helpful approach. I’m at the one idea stage–I can envision the opening (and must write it today) but I’m still fitting in the other parts, making notes on them. You’ve helped.

  2. November 5, 2014 8:25 PM

    Glad to hear it helped, Judy!
    Sandy – thank you for inviting me to drop by!

  3. November 5, 2014 11:46 PM

    It’s the getting it all to fuse that’s hard for me. My girl works alone as I do, and it’s hard to let or get other people in. Somerset Maughem, I think it was, wrote a story with only one character in it just to see if he coud do it. He must have, because I read it to the end. Not much plot, more of a character study,

    • November 6, 2014 7:40 AM

      Sounds like an interesting exercise, Marilyn. Thanks for telling us about it. I’ll have to look for that story. I like Somerset Maughem and I’m always glad to learn from a master.

  4. November 6, 2014 11:32 AM

    Karen, that’s a thoughtful summary of how writers work and an intriguing one of your story.

    • November 6, 2014 8:41 PM

      Thanks for stopping by, Carolyn. I always find it interesting to see how other writers approach the craft of storytelling.

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