Tuning Out the Voices in My Head–Unless They Have a Good Pitch

When people find out I am a writer, the first thing they ask is “Where do you get your story ideas?”  They’re frequently disappointed with my answer:  “I don’t know.”

Seriously. I don’t really know. The truth is there are voices in my head. Lots of ‘em.  And they are all screaming to be heard.  No, I’m not a schizophrenic.  At least I don’t think so.  Just a crazy author with too many stories to write and not enough time to write them.   Most of the time, I tune the voices out.  Unless they are telling me where my husband might have hidden the chocolate.  Sadly, I can’t tune out the ones that always start out a sentence  yelling “Mom…!”

What usually happens is I’ll see something in a magazine or a newspaper or on TV and think to myself “that would make a great book.”  This happened with a romantic suspense book I wrote involving a pastry chef and a DEA agent.  I saw this DEA agent on the network news one night and I was immediately intrigued.  Not by what he said, but by how he said it and what he looked like.  Suddenly, I had an entire back story in my head.  His partner in the novel, the pastry chef, came a few hours later when I was watching another news program.  Coming up with the idea is the easy part really.  Writing the books, not so much. 🙂

Other books I’ve written evolve from places I’ve visited and stories I imagine might happen there.  Many times the actual place serves as a vivid character in the book.  My current series is like that, based in the small, coastal town where my mother lives, Southport, North Carolina.  (Yes, you finally got your shout out, Mom.)  But the inn featured in those books is actually located in Asheville, North Carolina.  I’m headed there for a fact finding trip this fall. Well, I can’t just use the pictures from their website, can I?

Some writers use visual aids to conjure up the people or places in their novels. Many go to elaborate attempts to story board their books with photos of their characters and the places they write about. I’m not one of those authors. Way, way too much work.  Okay, with the exception of DEA guy, of course.  And, there’s a real funny Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon story involving him because Mr. DEA really exists and as luck would have it, I know someone who actually knows him. Talk about awkward!  But, that’s a subject for another blog.

Here’s the thing about using visual aids to inspire a character or place in a story, if the author does use them, I, as the reader don’t want to know.  Why? Because the picture I’ve created in my mind is not always the one the author used to base their character on.  I was once at a conference where Bob Mayer was the featured speaker.  He told the audience, Jennifer Cruisie, his co-author on several books, based the female character of one of those books on Zena, Warrior Princess.  That was NOT who I was picturing as I was reading the book! Not even close.  I don’t even like Zena, Warrior Princess.  It kind of ruined the book for me.

So even if I do go to the trouble of clipping photos from magazines and creating an elaborate story board, I’ll never share it.  That’s the best part about opening a new book as a reader.   The possibilities for your own imagination to enliven the story are endless.

How about the other writers out there?  Do you use visual aids or story boards to create your characters/places?

As a reader, do you want to know what or whom the author has based their characters on?

Let me know.


About Tracy Solheim

Best-selling author of the Out of Bounds series--sexy, contemporary sports romance novels. See what she's up to at www.tracysolheim.com.

Posted on July 20, 2012, in Blog Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. One of my friends said she had this negative voice in her head. I said, “A voice? Lucky you, it’s just the one. I have several.” she laughed and we both felt better.

    For my current WIP I did have to use a few visuals. Because when you describe places like the Giza complex or Denver airport they are places people actually go and need to be sort of close on the facts.

    My people are an amalgam of everybody I’ve ever met. They may look like one person but have a totally different personality. So people everywhere lookout!

  2. Christy Hayes

    I use visual aids in respect to descriptions of places I’ve never been or landscapes. Thank goodness for the internet! I don’t storyboard, probably because it sounds a lot like scrap booking and I’d rather set myself on fire than sit down with a pair of craft scissors and create something.

  3. I’m very visual and love to use photos or memories of places I’ve visited to help create settings. My characters, too! Though most of these folks start out as personalities and then images. 🙂

    And when you figure out how to tune out those sentences that begin with “Mom!” — please let me know. They run rampant around my house!

  4. Haha, Dianne! My friend suggested duct tape for those Mom voices. I just tell my kids, if they enter my office while I’m writing and the house isn’t on fire, they’ll be picking up an extra chore. It’s working. For the past hour, at least. 🙂

  5. Tracy, when I read a book, I get a “feel” for a character more than an image in my head. So like you, I’m often surprised by an author’s choice when they’ve modeled their character physically after a popular figure. Unlike you, though, their choices don’t ruin my enjoyment of the story, mostly because 5 minutes after I’ve read who their choice was, I’ve forgotten it and gone back to the “feel” of the character.

    So I tend to do that with my own writing, go by feel instead of finding a placeholder person to fulfill the characterization of my story people. Although I’ve been known to pull out the scissors and glue and magazines to collage the story. That often works when I’m looking for inspiration and ideas. Just looking at images, then selecting the ones that “feel” right (oh, I love the word “feel”), turns on the synapses in my brain and I’m suddenly full of scene images and ideas.

    Gosh, I love this business. 🙂

    • Sheila, I love the phrase “placeholder”! That’s the perfect word to describe the process. A writer can use a photo or real life person–or placeholder– as the basis for a character, but we use our own imaginations as readers to formulate our image of the character.

      Yes, it is a great business! 🙂

  6. I don’t tend to use a visual aid for any of my characters. Their physical characteristics tend to develop as I delve deeper into the personalities I create for them. I do, however, love visuals as I consider locations/ settings for my stories. I love to garner the feel of a home from a particular time period or imagine the stillness of a lake that sits just outside a quaint cottage in a small town, where a mystery is quietly brewing. :o) I also make notes and take pictures of places I have traveled not only for my family photo album, but also for ideas that I have inevitably started to come up with for a book. I agree with you that ideas come from everywhere and at all times of the day/ night!

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