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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Where Do Those Ideas Come From?

Please welcome guest blogger Heather Long

I’ve been asked this question a lot over the years. “Where do you get your ideas?” “How did you come up with that?” I’ve asked that question myself, reading a novel by a favorite author and wondering just where that idea found flame in his or her mind.

Stephen King’s The Stand is just one such novel. It’s an apocalyptic tale that pulls from the Book of Revelations for the events, but transforms the ideas to real world concepts. Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens does the same thing, but offers a different twist on the tale and we travel with the demon Crowley. These ideas come from similar source material but the road they traveled, the stories they told, diverged when the author asked and answered one small question:

What if?

What and if are two very innocuous words, but when you put them together they open doors to a whole new world. So where do those ideas we write about come from? They come from asking that question.
What if?

Stephanie Meyer asked what if vampires could come out in the sun?

Charlaine Harris asked what if vampires came out publically?

Patricia Briggs asked what if werewolves raised a different kind of shapeshifter?

Kelley Armstrong asked what if women couldn’t survive the change to become a werewolf?

Shannon Delany asked what if werewolf legends clashed with science?

So many what if questions can be found at the heart of a great story.

RWA National Conference in Orlando

At the National Conference in Orlando last July, I had the great fortune of attending a workshop with Shannon Delany. During the workshop, she discussed how she found great story ideas through real history. For example, she found a court history documenting the case of a real man accused of being a werewolf. During his trial, he admitted that he was a werewolf and that he acted in the interests of his community, protecting them from the darkness that would hunt them on the fringes of their town.

The man was not convicted nor was he tortured or put to death. Instead, his community lauded him for his efforts.

True story.

Kind of fun that truth is stranger than fiction.

Do you see the possibilities for a story there?

Asking Questions

Every story I’ve ever written, dreamed about or had leap from my head, fully formed like Athena springing to life from Zeus was predicated on the question: what if? What if historical records are true? What if the myths and legends are true? What if the witchfinders found real witches? What if vampires walked the earth? The story then attempts to answer that question by filling in all the blanks.

When I wrote Prime Evil, my first urban fantasy nearly ten years ago, I was answering a what if. I lived in Northern Virginia at the time, in the farm country surrounding Leesburg. Leesburg is the county seat of Loudoun County and was founded by the family of Robert E. Lee – yes, the General who defended the South during the Civil War. Leesburg is a picturesque, gorgeous area, filled to the brim with trees, wildlife, farms and history.

One day, driving down a tree-lined road that I regularly traveled, I discovered that dozens upon dozens of thick forest had been raised to the ground. In a span of just a few short hours, the lush forest was a stubbly landscape of broken branches, tree bark and lonely stumps stretching their fingers towards the sky as is asking “why?”

I asked myself what if harming the land harmed people? What if someone could truly feel what was being done? What if she was so connected to the earth that she could affect it and it could affect her?

Chance Monroe, my main character was born that day. For ten years she has lived in the back of my mind, answering those what if questions, filling in the blanks and I created a world of mythology just to answer her trials.

Since then, I’ve discovered other worlds by asking what if:

What if a ghost fell in love, but he couldn’t be seen or touched?

What if a vampire, maddened by his turn, turned another and then lost her?

What if a thief was desperate to return what she had stolen?

What if …

Where do my stories come from? They come from the world around me, the world that offers up situations, events and problems that make me ask what if?

Where do your stories come from?

Heather Long lives in North Texas with her husband, daughter and their menagerie of animals. As a child, Heather skipped picture books and enjoyed the Harlequin romance novels by Penny Jordan and Nora Roberts that her grandmother read to her. Heather believes that laughter is as important to life as breathing and that the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus are very real. In the meanwhile, she is hard at work on her next novel.

Seven Souls a Leaping Anthology (w/Lisa Pietsch and Kellyann Zuzulo)

Sapphire Blue Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-934657-99-7

At New England New Age (NENA) Investigations, no case is too weird. The paranormal detective agency relies on the familial talents of siblings Duncan and Samantha and their cousin Tara. While Duncan and Samantha tend to the fieldwork, Tara mans the office tapping sources in both the physical and spirit worlds. Fate takes a hand when a killer named Jeffrey Wiles begins a death-dealing spree that puts the lives and loves of these investigators on the line.

Seismic Evil (January 24, 2011)

Sapphire Blue Publishing

Return to the magic with Chance Monroe as she battles survivor’s guilt and a world turned upside down by earthquakes devastating the Northern Virginia area she calls home. Chance’s fear that she is the source of earthquakes devastating the land, she tries to shut down her connection to the Earth. But when enemies aware of how to shatter her bond to the earth kidnap her, she now must turn to lover Jack and close friends Sydney and Jaime as well as uneasy ally Callanport for the strength to face the mad Hedge Witch Ava. If she fails, millions may die.


Dawn Alexander said...

Interesting post. Some of my best ideas have come while driving and pondering the What if's of the land around me. Not about vampires or werewolves, though, because I am a big scaredy-cat.

I also get ideas from news stories or bits of dialogue I hear around me. I mentioned this to my best friend once. Now, she likes to send me links to stories she labels "research". They are usually crazy stuff, like someone robbing a McDonald's with a cap gun while dressed as Elmo, but I appreciate her support.

My other source of "What if" inspiration comes from family stories. I am only child so often adults forgot I was in the room and if I stayed quiet, I could hear stories I wasn't meant to know. Like about my cousin who was caught having an affair with a married man because they were in a car crash together and, oh yeah, she was naked.Or the friend of my mother's whose Ex was accused of molesting their daughter. He was acquitted and "walked"... all the way to his car where he was killed in "botched car jacking".

Most of these stories happened before I was born, but they sure fed my imagination!

Kym Roberts said...

I never thought of my plotting sessions in such a simplistic manner! You've nailed it on the head. I'm mesmorized by scenery and it's spirituality. Add a little law enforcement experience and characters I've mixed and matched and there's my what-ifs. Only now I'll be able to take out a few steps and shorten the process. Thanks Heaher!

Kym Roberts

Marsha said...

Interesting post, Heather. I need to ask "what if" more often. Thanks for the push. Marsha

Angi Morgan said...

"Where do my stories come from? They come from the world around me, the world that offers up situations, events and problems that make me ask what if?"

Just like you, my stories are a part of the world around me. Great Post!


Shirin Dubbin said...

You're so right about the "what if," Heather. You have a genius way of breaking the craft of writing down. You always give me "oh yeah!" moments.

My stories come from all over the place: snatches of song lyrics, mythology mashed up with modern life, personal experiences, the story I left the theater wishing a movie had told *grin*...and sometimes a scene or a line of dialogue grabs me and won't let loose.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Heather, great post. Asking "what if" is the key to writing a great story. Thanks for sharing.