Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Where Do My Ideas Come From?

WHERE DO MY IDEAS COME FROM? by Jane Myers Perrine

I’ve been asked this over and over: where do you get your ideas for your books?
I don’t know.
A writer friend tells people who ask that question that the ideas for her story come from a Wal-Mart outside Dallas. Writers find that funny. Non-writers don’t.
My ideas come from so many places. I read a book with a great title but the story didn’t fit at all. Very disappointing. So I thought, “What kind of story would I write if I used that title?” I came up with one which I liked much better than the other one, but, of course, I can’t tell you my title or that would give away what book I hadn’t liked.
Many times, the first sentence of a book comes into my brain from—I don’t know where. Perhaps I’ve read a book or an article in the newspaper or heard a few words on television and those burrow into my brain, take a little nap, and emerge days or weeks or years later as a new idea.
The first sentence that came to me for my Love Inspired THE PATH TO LOVE was this: “Francie Calhoun learned to pick pocket when she was five, mark cards at eight, and hotwire a care years before she could get a driver’s license.” Then I had to figure out who Francie was and what she did the rest of her life.
The same happened with my first Avalon, THE MAD HERRINGTONS. My first thought was, “’The Mad Herringtons. Blast them all,’ Aphrodite Herrington cursed to herself.” This gave me an idea that the heroine and her family didn’t get along but loved each other. I developed the story along those lines.
Our cocker spaniel gave me an idea for the beginning—a cute meet—in PERSY AND THE PRINCE, my second book from Avalon.
But I haven’t really answered the question. Where do I get my ideas? I haven’t the slightest idea. They come to me as a fully formed character or a few lines or an interesting plot twist--all perhaps the products of an oddly wired brain.

Can you think of some novels that have memorable first lines that drew you into a story and share them here? Or, writers, can you tell us where you got the idea for one of yours books?


I.J. Parnham said...

My favourite opening line comes from Alfred Bester's The Stars my Destination: "He was one hundred and seventy days dying and not yet dead."

As for ideas of my own, often it's a title that comes first. My Avalon Western: Miss Dempsey's School for Gunslingers was a phrase that popped into my head one day and wouldn't go away. It was such a daft title for a western that the only way I could stop thinking about it was to write it.

Debby Mayne said...

What a thought-provoking post, Jane! My book ideas generally begin with observations of strangers. Then I start a series of "what ifs." All of my books begin with characters, then the plots evolve from their internal conflicts.

I love your question about favorte first lines. I like to see something about the character--something that gives me a hint of the conflict, a major trait of the main character, or the theme of the story. I have a couple of favorite first lines.

In Trish Perry's Too Good to be True, she opens with "Seconds before Ren passed out, she considered what her mother would say. 'In a Walmart? You couldn't collapse at a Nordstrom's, at least?'"

Anne George is the queen of first lines. I love how she opens Murder Boogies with Elvis with "I was lying on my stomach under the kitchen sink, eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich and listening to Vivaldi's 'Spring' when icy cold hands grasped my ankles."

Debby Mayne said...

Oops! Sorry about the typo. I meant favorite, not favorte.

Elisabeth Rose said...

The title Miss D's School for Gunslingers caught my fancy years ago when I was looking at the Avalon lists and wondering about sending in my first submission. It stuck in my mind as a book I'd really like to read because it sounded so quirky! Haven't got hold of a copy yet. Maybe when I'm in NY in July . . .

I got the idea for the book I'm writing at the moment when I attended my niece's wedding. The groom had 2 Best Men one of whom was staunchly single and the celebrant was a girl who loved weddings. Now there's a couple who should get together I thought . . .

Carol Hutchens said...

Interesting, Jane.
My ideas come from everywhere, songs, movies, pictures, news and TV shows...but it's the 'ripped from the headlines' ideas that get me in trouble...often ending in rejection.

I'm trying to reform, stay away from hot topics.

I.J. Parnham said...

Thanks, Elisabeth.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for you comments. I'm always interested in first lines and how writers come up with stories. I love knowing that often they pop up--like your title, I.J., while others of you are able to use your creativity to transform everyday happenings.


Sierra Donovan said...

That's always a hard question, isn't it, Jane? It's easier to answer for a specific book because, as you've shown, ideas shoot at us from all directions. Usually when we're not looking for them.

I think our Muses are sort of like cats. Try to pick it up and put it in your lap, and it's likely to take off. Get busy doing something else, when your lap or brain are otherwise occupied, and zing! -- there it is.

The job interview scene in LOVE ON THE AIR started out as a creative writing assignment. Years later, I was brainstorming what kind of characters I'd like to put in a book, and that hero and heroine reappeared to me, facing each other down from opposite sides of a desk. It was the start I needed!