Sunday, June 5, 2011

Where'd you get that idea???

by Judy Merrill Larsen

I'm never quite sure where my next story idea will come from. Not that I'm ever at a loss for suggestions--helpful or not. Friends and family are always telling me I can "use this" in my next book. If only it was that easy. I mean, between the 5 kids, a sweet but very stupid 7 year-old Golden Retriever, and 15 year-old senile diabetic cat, you would think I'd be chock full of story ideas. But, at least for me, it doesn't work that way.

For me, it tends to be so much more random. Not exactly a bolt from the blue; more like a wiggle or squiggle or edge of an idea slowly worming its way in. Usually, I don't even know it at first. But then, I'll realize a particular sentence has been rolling around in my head for a few days (and, no, it's not the ever present question ALWAYS in my head asking if we have enough wine.).

I'll hear voices. Or just one very insistent voice. Often on my early morning walk. I mean, there I'll be, huffing and puffing away, convincing myself to take the long way, that this hill will soon level off and then I can go home and enjoy some more coffee, when I become aware that inside my head, there's a whole life waiting to be told. It's like someone has taken up residence right behind my eyes. And I know, if I'm patient and LISTEN, there's a great story there.

But, just like when I meet someone new in my real life, the story might not come out all at once. And it might take a lot of hanging out and some wine and more long morning walks than I really want to take to truly get to know this person's story.

But that's part of the fun and mystery and adventure of it. There will be sadness too, because there are always hard parts to open up about. Stuff we survived but weren't sure we could . . . or weren't even sure we wanted to.

And for me, sitting down to write, it's figuring out which string to pull. And allowing myself to follow it ALL the way. I can't tug too hard because it will break. And I definitely don't want to let it go because it might fly away. So, I have to be gentle with it and let it unwind. But when I'm patient, and when I let the characters tell their story (rather than what I think it is), I know that I'm going to have an incredible adventure and when I get to the end and have to tell them goodbye I'll feel sad . . . because I've spent so much time with them and I've gotten to know them so well. They've become family to me. But just like taking your kid to college, it's time to let them go and make their way into the world, as scary as that can be, and you know that when they're out in the world they're going to meet some amazing people and they'll still come home to tell you all about it.

Anyway, that's what it's like for me. That's where my ideas come from. Speaking of which . . . there's this amazing woman I'm just getting to know really well and she's smack in the middle of filling me in about her life. I have a hunch something pretty cool is about to happen . . . something she doesn't even see coming, so I need to go watch that happen.

But what about you . . . how do your ideas arrive?

I live in St. Louis, MO with my husband, am the mom/stepmom to five kids (ages 17-25), and taught high school English for 15 years. I'm over on Facebook and Twitter . My first novel, ALL THE NUMBERS was published in 2006.


  1. My ideas come from everywhere. A snippet of conversation, a tv show, a picture... Sometimes I worry I won't have another good idea for the next book, but then something happens and voila! Ideas are universal and unlimited. Thannk God!

  2. MarIa, know . . . isn't it amazing that the oddest thing can spark an entire novel?

  3. Judy, I'm just like you. A character just comes to me and I'll just keep on thinking about him or her! But Maria, I agree with you, too-- the tiniest off comment can get me thinking for days.

    So, I guess ideas come from everywhere!!

  4. I get loads of ideas, but I don't really give them any merit unless I'm STILL THINKING ABOUT IT months later. Or often I'll get the germ of an idea but I'm not sure how to make it a full story but one day the "answer" pops into my head and then it's a train going downhill that I can't stop. For my novella, Life's a Beach, I got the idea while reading Beliefnet on one of their abundance/law of attraction posts. I knew the story couldn't be 300 pages, but as a novella at 90 pages, it's the perfect size.

  5. Judy, my ideas come that way, too, at least a lot of the time. It's just something I think about and then maybe even put aside. But then I hear conversations or see a scene, whatever, that makes me realize, "I need to see what this is about!" Great post!

  6. Thanks Judy for sharing, I love learning what makes an author tick, how they hear the stories that make me fall in love with those characters, and I lose myself.