By Lonnie Cruse
This weekend, at a family reunion, someone asked me where I get my ideas for my stories and how I come up with my characters. Writers get this question all the time. Most of us don't always know where we get our ideas, so we're honest about it. Other authors say they get them at the "Idea Store." Don't believe them.
I suppose for writers there is a little computer humming along in the back of our heads at all times. We see something and it sets us off. And sends us running to our real computers. For instance, last weekend we stayed on a farm in the beautiful rolling hills of Kentucky. The house is quite a distance from the road and the house directly across is also far back off the road, so you can see it, but at a distance. It's a REALLY old house, and quite beautiful, as is the place where we stayed. In the afternoons, I sat on the porch and looked across those hills and dreamed about that house. What's it like inside? What are the owners like? What is their story? As it happens, I know most of that particular story because I asked my host, but any writer could speculate and come up with a terrific mystery, or romance, or historical novel without knowing anything about the history of the old house. Whatever interests you. Or me.
My point is that if you are struggling for ideas to write about, stop and look around you. See any interesting houses, old or new? Other buildings? Cars? People? I don't have a picture to post about that farm, but I've got a couple of other pictures for you to look at. See any stories there?
Below is a reproduction of Fort Massac, on the site of a fort that existed here in the 1700's. Imagine the stories there? The other is a picture of a very old house not far from where I live. What's the story behind that house?
What about characters? How can you write believable characters that come alive on your pages? By watching the very real people around you. Incidentally, it's not always a good idea to totally base a character who is less than perfect on someone you know and who might recognize themselves in your story. And who then might want to sue or take a swing at you, neither being good possibilities. Instead, use a mixture of several people you've observed when creating a character. Build a whole new person in your head, then introduce that person to the world.
Quite honestly, I'm not totally sure how I create characters except that I'm a people watcher. I try not to judge people's motives, because I'm usually off the mark, but I like to watch mannerisms and behaviours and incorporate them into stories.
My characters do become real to me, and they often won't do what I want them to. Most writers will tell you that, and most readers are boggled by that information. After all, we created that character, why can't we make him/her do whatever we want? Probably that little internal computer again, instinctively telling us what a character will or won't do, based on our mind's eye vision of that character.
I know I get a lot of ideas from observations in real life and from keeping an eye on news stories. I know I get ideas from looking at homes or other unusual structures. How do I put them into the story? Not sure except visualizing the scenes as they would appear to my character, like a director in a movie would do. Watching the characters move around, seeing what they want to do, then letting them do it.
And I visit the Idea Store fairly often.