Friday, June 17, 2016

Friday Fun - Where I Get Story Ideas by Melinda Curtis

It's probably the most-often heard question writers are asked: Where do you get ideas for your stories?

My answer is usually boring: life.

It's important to remember that one idea doesn't make a story go for all those pages. Like planting, you need a rich base of soil, fertilizer, sunshine, water, nutrients - a veritable kaleidoscope of ideas that work together to keep that story moving forward, that keep your story looking different than other stories out there.

I like writing about family dynamics - whether it's a real family (siblings are great fodder for stories) or a blended family or a community family. My Harmony Valley series is about a small town that has been dying - the only people left are retirees and the elderly, because they can't sell their homes and move elsewhere. For those books, I often use the dynamics I see in my elderly parents and their friends: the die-hard volunteer who has served as president for the garden club, the travel club, and meals on wheels; the curmudgeonly loner who sits in his webbed lawn chair watching the world go by (wearing his bathrobe); the gossip who refuses to age (dying her hair and wearing inappropriate clothing). The backdrop of setting and community are important to the story.

Then I draw from heroes and heroines I enjoy writing about: firemen, businessmen, nurses, bakers,
bloggers, winemakers, twins, etc.. And I wonder how those characters would interact within my settings/community, primarily looking for sources of conflict. For example, Duffy, my hero in A Memory Away, is a vineyard manager who likes to keep to himself, but when he moves in next door to the town gossip...built in conflict! Warning: that's only external conflict. Certainly not enough to carry an entire book!

I also draw from the emotional struggles of those around me. Mr. Curtis (my husband) is an optimist. He doesn't believe any person or animal should ever give up or die. While I was writing Summer Kisses, we learned that Mr. Curtis' sister was losing her long battle with cancer. True to his character, Mr. Curtis flew to South Dakota and called me every night, saying how well his sister was doing. "The doctors are wrong," he said. "She's got months or years left in her." He absolutely refused
to believe the cancer would take his beloved sister quickly. She was gone within a week. I used my man's strong belief for Flynn, who refused to believe his grandfather, the man who raised him, could possibly die of heart failure. Those kind of inner beliefs can provide rich fodder for character growth and conflict with other characters (in the case of Flynn and Summer Kisses, the heroine is his grandfather's caregiver, a woman who is determined not to care for those on the brink of dying any more since her heart can't take more loss).

So all you budding authors (and interested readers), here are some hints for finding great story ideas:

1. Next time someone in your life (work, family, church, gym) is stressed out about something, try to understand what belief they have that is causing their distress. A friend of mine is a retired cop, but he works part time as a custodian. He cannot believe the amount of disrespect a custodian gets. He's used to telling people what to do and having them do it. This belief (that what he says goes) could translate well to a man who lost everything in a bad business deal and is now working as a (fill in the blank) or an officer in the army who is adjusting to civilian life. Get the idea?

2. I love great lines of dialogue spoken during black moments/turning points in movies. It tells you a lot about the beliefs of the character and how the conflict impacts them. You can trace every bad decision back from that painful admission. For example, there's a recent comic book movie out where the hero thinks (in voice-over) that cancer sucks because it hurts the person left behind worse than the person dying (paraphrasing). That belief impacts every decision the hero makes from that point forward. You can take that idea out of the action hero genre and into a gentle romance, making the story your own.

3. Use your own life experiences. I can be wardrobe challenged and have experienced wardrobe malfunctions, which was the basis for many plot lines in Always a Bridesmaid. I've worked at a winery, which helped me seed external plot challenges Christine had to face in A Season of Change. Whether you work the front desk at a hotel or are a Starbucks barista. You have story and character ideas around you all the time.

4. And finally...Relax. Take a shower, go for a walk, nap. If you take the pressure off yourself, you can come up with some really great story ideas.

So there you have it. You can draw ideas from the tapestry of life around you and create your own type of tapestry on the page.

Melinda Curtis is an award-winning, USA Today Bestseller. Her latest release - A Man of Influence - is a sweet romance from Harlequin Heartwarming, and is inspired by several real life stories about recovering from car accidents, reinventing yourself, and moving on after parents die.

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