Monday, May 17, 2010

Ideas are Everywhere

I've been doing some thinking about how writers of historical fiction come up with ideas for plots. Often, the solution is as simple as opening the front page of the newspaper and scanning through the local stories. There's a great deal of stuff going on in the heartland of America.

It's a diminishing resource, too, as newspapers seem to be going the way of button hooks and the dodo. However, I've found some gems in the Classifieds. For example, here's one from the New Haven Register some months back: "For Sale. Wedding dress. Size 10. Never worn. Best offer."

What a writer could do with that.

Pick your time period. I'm partial to the WWII era, but it could work in a multitude of times and cultures. People that setting and you've got an angry father, perhaps a murdered finance or a jilted bride. A wartime romance that didn't come to fruition? The possibilities are endless.

Toss in a murder, some crime of various sorts, troubled family relationships, and you can have a historical worth reading.

How do you find your ideas?


Dr John Yeoman said...

Take a look at:

It lists the classified ads (and other stories) for every edition of The Times of London since 1785. Taking a random term, I did a search on 'lady' for the year 1785 and found enough story-starters, from ladies fallen into sad times and seeking menial jobs, to fill a 3-volume Victorian novel. Heart-wrenching stuff.

Anonymous said...

I'm not really sure where my ideas come from - I think lots of little things stick in my brain and then coalesce into something - usually while I'm doing something like housework or work-work (my day-job would be classed as "unskilled manual labour" which is a very misleading term. And I need to stop ranting about that, lol).

Thinking about my job though has made me remember an incident which could, with a bit of adjustment, be used for inspiration: I pack & despatch items for online shops. Some of these have giftwrap/message options. In December, we were getting a lot with messages of "Merry Christmas" so it stuck in my memory when we had one which read "I'm sorry. Please forgive me." - and the amusing conclusion to the story was that in early January the item was returned to us as "delivery refused" (i.e. not "no one in and they didn't pick it up" which is the usual reason for items being returned) We spent a while speculating what the apologer had done...

Kilian said...

My ideas usually come from some small thing that makes me think "what would that be like?" What would it be like to be a young teen from a family of genteel poverty sent to foster at a rich relative's household in the 16th century (Bess of Hardwick)? What would it be like to be a prostitute in medieval France? What would it be like to be a Civil War vet with PTSD before anyone knew what that was? and so on. I make a list and then start answering my own questions. My current work in progress is a response to the heat in Arizona in August. I started wondering what would it be like to be on a island off the coast of Maine right now? That is turning into a novel about a chandler's daughter yanked from boarding school to run the family business when her father is killed in a fire. All I wanted was to have an excuse to read web sites about Maine, and it turned into a novel.

KK Brees said...

writers are my favorite people - and the reasons are listed in the comments to this post.

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