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.