One of the most frequent questions writers hear is “where do you get your story ideas?”
Well, to be honest, where don’t we?
A couple nights ago, we were clicking through channels and landed on a PBS program about nineteenth century unsolved crimes. The episode was about a string of murders in Austin, Texas in 1885. I was immediately hooked, scribbling notes with vital information so I could later look up the crimes and explore the details again. My head kept telling me there was a story there. Well, it was actually a bit like alarm bells.
I’m not sure what it was…the historical period, the unsolved nature of the crimes or that they likely the work of a single person (an early serial killer), the fact that law enforcement never connected them, or perhaps the potential to create my own plot around them…something reached out and grabbed me.
It isn’t the first time that’s happened watching TV.
The same thing occurs when reading travel or history magazines—a lot. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve torn out pages and filed them away because I see the spark of a plot or core of a character within them.
Special news sections in papers are just as hard to resist. When I lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I used to look forward to Frontier Days and the multi-page spread with stories of life and events of the early community.
I’ve bought more books than I can count for the same reason. Book stores with large regional history sections are tempt me. Book sections within historic site visitor centers or museum gift shops seem to have tentacles that grab me and suck me in. I leave with a bag and an empty purse, story ideas shouting at me all the way home.
Historic hotels or bed and breakfast inns that have unique histories hook me, too. Next thing you know, I’m chatting with the manager about the past and where I might find more information.
Maybe it’s the penchant for research that lives within me. Maybe it’s the writer. Put them both together and I’m pretty much doomed.
So, all you writers out there…where do you get YOUR ideas?