‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ is a question much derided by some writers.
(‘What do they expect us to say?’ sneered one famous author in an interview I read once. ‘That we pop down to the shop on the corner and pick up a few ideas when we need them?’) I think it’s actually a very interesting question, although it’s often hard to remember once you’ve finished a book where the original idea came from.
I quite like it when my editor gives me something to start with. For instance, she suggested at the beginning of the year that I write a duet set in outback Australia and London, which wasn’t a lot to go on, but better than nothing. I spent several months with my mind absolutely blank about what to do with the settings I’d been given, and I was getting perilously close to panic when I had the germ of an idea …
I can remember the precise moment of germination, too. I was in my bathroom, listening to Dido (‘how sad and weird’, my 15 year-old goddaughter would doubtless say). There’s a song on Life for Rent about the developing relationship between the singer and Mary’s boyfriend, Danny, who she’s keeping an eye on while her friend is away in
Other ideas come from my own experiences, or those of my friends. Contracted: Corporate Wife was me giving my best friend a fantasy ending to her own problems as a single mother living in a tiny flat with two sulky adolescents and very little room to manoeuvre financially. As for Business Arrangement Bride, where my heroine, Mary, tries to teach
Once the idea has germinated, I can move into plotting mode. Contrary to my usual slap-happy approach to writing, I do, in fact, have a tried and tested technique when it comes to plotting, and I’m here to share it exclusively with members of the Pink Heart Society … Here’s what you do. Firstly, ignore people who insist that writing is always a solitary activity. Then get together a couple of friends (I find women friends work best; in my experience men don’t have a clue about how a romance works), and take them down to your favourite bar and buy them a bottle of wine. Train your friends carefully, though. They must learn to keep coming up with ideas that you pooh-pooh, and not mind while you sneer that their clever idea would never work, and then decide that if you just twisted it slightly, it just might, so that you can claim all the credit yourself.
I’ll always start with something subtle along the lines of ‘Oh God, what am I going to do, I’ve got to start writing tomorrow and I haven’t got a plot!’ accompanied by much hand-wringing and hair-tearing. I’ll then give them what I’ve got, which at this stage is perilously little. So, for instance, when it came to the duet I’m writing now, I told them that there had to be two stories, one set in the outback and one in
The ideas my friends came up with were really interesting, especially as they both have sisters and I don’t, so it’s rather a mysterious relationship to me. (I don’t have children either, and I find them really helpful when it comes to heroines who are single mothers and what they would/would not be prepared to do for their children.) Naturally, I didn’t tell them this though. I just sat there pouring the wine and saying , ‘No, no, that wouldn’t work’/’Nope, I’ve done that before’/‘No self-respecting woman would ever do that’/‘Heroes don’t do that kind of thing’ until they got quite cross with me. This is always the point when I tell them loftily to write their own books if that’s the story they want.
Having wrung them dry, I went home and – take note, because this is the critical point in the whole plotting process - I had a bath. Not just any bath, of course. A plotting bath requires closed curtains, candles, music, a drink and a resolution not to think at all as I sink back into the bubbles with a sigh. At the recent RNA conference I attended a session on overcoming writer’s block, and someone suggested that fragrances could help the creative process. I suspect it’s more the ritual of it all that works for me, but amazingly it does work.
Somehow all the wild ideas that have been whirling around my head thanks to my plotting team’s input settle down. It’s as if the debris sinks to the bottom and I’m left with a few nuggets that suddenly take shape and make sense. Of course sister two has always been in love with the boyfriend, that’s why sister one rushes off to
So where do you go to find your inspiration? Any funny tales of overheard conversations or epiphanies in strange places? Tell us!
Jessica is a winner of the pretigious RITA award for Best Traditional Romance.
Her latest Harlequin Romance novel, BUSINESS ARRANGEMENT BRIDE is out now in North America and the UK!!!
Find out more at her website.