The question writers are asked most often seems to be, “Where do you get your ideas?” Since I was blessed to have a profession (lawyer) where I helped people solve their problems, I regularly witnessed the follies of human beings. Sitting in a courtroom every day, I was never bored and kept my ears, eyes, and a separate notebook open. I have more ideas than I’ll ever be able to use, but that’s not true for everyone.
That notion of keeping eyes and ears open is the key. What perks your attention? Maybe it’s a story on television or in a newspaper. Maybe it’s observing a neighbor’s peculiar routine tossing trash in a dumpster that appears gift-wrapped. Maybe it’s a place that intrigues you.
Here’s an example of what can trigger a story. In my hometown, someone posted a photo (featured above) of a beautiful home built in the 1870s that has been condemned after a very rich history. Many of the comments told stories about the house.
In its grandest day, the house had been home to prosperous merchants. It apparently has a grand staircase and gorgeous moldings, doors, and fixtures. Someone mentioned grand gardens, which I had imagined when I drove by the house. Of course I drove by the house. I needed to see it with my own eyes.
I learned from the comments online that someone from Boston bought the house in the 1980s and let it fall into decline. People who rented it had fond summer memories. Other people raved about the parties at the house, most notably when it was unoccupied. Someone vaguely remembered a party that may have involved hallucinogenic drugs. One squatter lasted seven years and tried to maintain the house. Ultimately, the town condemned the property and took ownership for unpaid taxes. Then there’s a mysterious $500,000. lien on the property, which I’m guessing is a story in itself. Was someone injured during a party or while exploring the abandoned house and sued for damages?
This one photo about a house and all of the lore surrounding it contains enough seeds for a thousand stories. I’m not exaggerating. If we asked 1,000 writers to look at it, we would hear a different tale from each.
I thought of Tana French, one of my favorite authors, when I first saw the photo. Her book, The Likeness, might have been set in this house or it could be the ancient family home where she set The Witch Elm. Maybe I’ll set a novel in this house about a teenager who did drugs in it during his youth and returned to restore it as an adult after making his fortune. There could be a grim discovery in the basement during the renovations. Already, my imagination is off and running.
And that, dear readers, is how ideas are born. Please share some of your own with us at Miss Demeanors.