Thursday, March 22, 2012

Taking Ideas from Whatever Comes Your Way, Without Getting Caught

This morning, I treated myself to breakfast at a restaurant, all by my lonesome, without a book to keep me company. Instead, I checked out my fellow diners. I never know what I'm going to see or hear when I people watch, and that's why it's fun.

Go forth! Eavesdrop. People watch. Butt into a stranger's conversation. And see what happens.

Three tables away a woman spoke loudly enough for me to hear the snap in her voice as she chastened her companion about the cost of his trifocal lenses. She asked, in the same sentence, if she could order the BBQ chicken. I can only assume, because of her weight, that her anger wasn’t based in his buying habits or his opinion about what she wanted to eat. I think that she was hungry.

Why take it out on him?

Nearby, two pairs of women chatted on either side of me while they waited to order their food.

On my left:
Woman A: So are you two involved, or what?
Woman B: I don’t know what we are. I haven’t asked.


On my right:
A sixty-ish, well-polished woman, having lunch with a much older friend who looked to be in her 80s. What fascinated me more than their conversation (prescriptions, doctors and the twins) was the older woman's appearance. Small, withering, manicured and pedicured, blond hair draped on her shoulder. Huge gold earrings, dark orange pants, bright orange fitted tank top covered by a sexy sheer top through which I could see sagging skin where her triceps used to be. She was a woman who still cared about her appearance.

These three sets of people, and their conversations, intrigued me: Who were they? What was their relationship to one another? What they were doing before they met for lunch—and why now?

For me, these kinds of questions, thought starters more than anything else, can lead to conflicts and story ideas.

Some writers use current events, newspaper articles, and personal experience as starting points for their work. Others use history or stories from childhood. We all have ideas that scurry in and out of our brains. Not every idea works, but they set the imagination in gear and, sometimes, they provide a story premise, the setting for a scene or a character.

The key, and where the hard work begins, is in taking these ideas and turning them into a work with all of the critical components—a beginning, middle, and end—that make a compelling read. 

Jacqueline Luckett is the author of Passing Love, a novel of secrets, betrayal, and Paris. You can learn more about Jacqueline and hear an excerpt from Passing Love at Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter .