Diary of a Mad Author: Where Do Creative Writing Ideas Come From?
a guest post by romantic suspense author Carol Ericson
One of the most common questions I get asked when someone finds out I’m an author is: Where do you get all your ideas?
Actually, there is no one handy “idea website” for authors, nor is there just one process of coming up with story ideas for most authors. One idea for a story can come from multiple sources and sometimes those sources can be surprising.
To understand where an author’s story ideas originate, it’s helpful to understand the mind of an author—or at least this author! As early as elementary school, I was making up stories in my head. These weren’t always stories with a beginning, middle, and end; sometimes, they were just snatches of dialogue between pretend people. Sometimes, I would have conversations with imaginary people. Sometimes, I would play out scenes in my head or even act them out. Ready to call the little men in with the white coats yet? Oftentimes, I would organize “games” for me and my best friend where we would play at being different characters. When I got back in touch with this friend years and years after not seeing her and she discovered I was an author, she just nodded her head and said, “That figures.” For a while there, I truly believed that everyone had characters and dialogue running through their heads all the time. Imagine my surprise (and consternation) when I discovered that was not quite the case.
Soon I was writing these stories down on paper—just to get them out of my head! I never really shared the stories with anyone, until I hit middle school. When I was in 8th grade, I created a magazine for my school and solicited my friends and a teacher advisor to help me. The name of the magazine was Madrone Madness, and it contained news about the school, blind gossip items about students (nothing mean or nasty), student song dedications, and an ongoing soap opera called “As Madrone Turns.” I kid you not. I would use the teachers as characters and put them in silly situations. We published that magazine once a month, for I can’t remember how long. I wish I still had a copy somewhere!
Fast forward many, many, okay, many years, and I’m an author writing several books a year and trying to come up with new ideas and twists with every book. I still have those voices in my head. I still talk out loud to myself. (Imagine my relief when people started talking on their cell phones with headphones and everyone was walking around seemingly talking to themselves!) I watch people in public places. If a couple is sitting at a table having dinner together and don’t say one word to each other during the course of the entire meal, I not only wonder why; I come up with the reasons why, and that couple may make it into my next book as a boring husband and wife who share a deadly secret and can’t talk about it or anything else in case it leads to a discussion about their secret. When a movie or TV series ends, I continue the story in my head. What if…? In fact, “what if,” is the lifeblood to many authors and many people who write fanfiction.
I’m also a huge fan of true crime stories, although truth really is stranger than fiction sometimes, and I’ll occasionally abandon an idea for a story from a true case because it’s just too unbelievable. True crime cases are a great way to get ideas about what motivates people to commit murder. They also offer a study in psychology and evil. I got the idea for one of my Harlequin Intrigues from the Cary Stayner case. Stayner was the older brother of a boy who had been kidnapped and held captive for seven years. Stayner’s brother escaped his captor and helped a younger boy escape as well. He was hailed as a hero and reunited with his family. There was even a TV movie made about the case. Sadly, when Stayner’s brother was a young man, he died in a motorcycle accident. But his older brother’s story didn’t end there. The older brother ended up murdering four people in Yosemite years later. What a strange twist to the whole tragic affair. That case stayed with me after I read about it, and I later used elements of that story in an Intrigue.
I also follow the news, which can be fertile ground for suspense stories. My very first Intrigue was based on a news article I had read about authorities discovering a tunnel beneath the U.S./Mexican border which was used for drug trafficking. This tunnel was paved, had lights, and resting points. After I read that story, the “what ifs” starting clicking. What if terrorists were using a tunnel like this to funnel weapons into the U.S. for a terrorist attack? And what if a hapless heroine inadvertently discovered the tunnel? This, of course, is a real worry and scores of these tunnels have been discovered since then (not sure about the hapless heroine though). It was also the basis for my book, The Stranger and I.
I write a lot of books about terrorism and covert military and CIA operations, so it’s no surprise that I enjoy books and movies about the same subjects—The Bourne Identity series has given me plenty of ideas and don’t get me started on Homeland. I absolutely love that series and every episode could make a fantastic Intrigue, and Quinn could be every hero for me!
There’s no one answer to that question of where the ideas come from, and the answer won’t be the same for every author. I do, however, have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only author who talks to herself and has imaginary characters in her head—at least I hope I’m not!
If you love the twists and turns of suspense as I do, be sure to check out part 1 of TOUGH JUSTICE for FREE!
For more information about the series, visit ToughJusticeSeries.com.
About the Tough Justice Series:
FBI Agent Lara Grant has finally put her life as an undercover operative behind her and started a new assignment in New York City. But her past and present collide and become ever more twisted as a spate of murders send a message that is cruelly, chillingly personal…
Find the Tough Justice Series: Website
About the author: Carol Ericson is a best-selling, award-winning author of more than 45 books, including over 25 books for Harlequin Enterprises. Carol has an eerie fascination for true crime stories, a love of film noir, and a weakness for reality TV, all of which fuel her imagination to create her own tales of murder, mayhem, mystery, and romance. To find out more about Carol and her current projects, please visit her website at http://www.carolericson.com, “where romance flirts with danger.”
The amazing team at Harlequin is offering up a $25 Amazon gift card to one lucky winner! Please enter via the Rafflecopter form. Giveaway is open internationally.