Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Story is Born

By Lisa Karon Richardson

One of the most frequent questions a writer gets is: “Where do you get your ideas from?” It’s not an easy question to answer because ideas come from everywhere. Half-remembered conversations, TV news, research, people watching.

There’s almost always some nugget that provides the impetus for a story. But it takes a lot of work to melt down the nugget, refine it and spin it into gold. Unfortunately I can’t think of any stories that sprang full born into the mind of a writer, like some sort of reverse Minerva.

The most common way a story is worked into shape is by asking questions. I discover who my characters are by asking why. Why does she respond like this? Why does she desire that? Seriously, writers are like toddlers. Ever answer provokes another why!

Plots are developed by asking, what if. What if the letter is never delivered? What if the ship sinks? What if the murderer figures out she’s on to him?

Getting the answers to the questions is a thrill. It’s the sort of rush that makes pitching the story to an industry professional worth the effort.

So here I am. I’m editing my last story and getting ready to submit it to agents and editors. It seems like at this point in the process my mind always turns to thoughts of the next story. I’m not unfaithful to the story I’m working on now mind you, but my attention does start to wander.

In this case I’ve got my nugget for my next story. It’s a character. (Thanks, for letting me have him Jen!) His name is Carter Forbes and he’s a Pinkerton agent in the 1890’s. Here’s his picture.

He’s tough and smart, but also has his eccentricities. For example, he’s loved dime store novels since he was a kid. Besides the fact that the detective’s seemed so heroic in the stories he’s read, he came to investigation because his little sister was severely injured in a robbery gone bad. She’s now paralyzed. And Carter is determined to make the world safe for her.

Only now she’s fallen prey to a quack who promises healing. Enter the heroine, a different kind of charlatan. She’s a fake medium who Carter catches because of another investigation and then forces to help him prove the truth about the quack.

I think it’s a solid premise with characters very different from the average Christian fare. There’s potential for plenty of conflict, but also room for attraction to grow and romance to blossom. The problem is to take that 123 word description and turn it into 340 pages of story.

OK, so if you’re up for it, let’s play bookmaker. (Some of you will be taking bets on the story’s odds of publication, for the rest of you there are lots of questions to ask and try to answer.) Many I haven’t even thought of yet. Some of the ones I have thought of concern the heroine. She has to be likable, even if she’s flawed. So why is she a fake psychic? What does she want more than anything else in the world? How does she grow through the story?

Since it’s my story, there’s also going to be some element of mystery or intrigue. Besides bringing down the quack, what central mystery could complicate and entwine with the other story?

How do hero and heroine first come into contact?

Where should I set the story? San Francisco, New York? Somewhere else?

Anyone want to offer title ideas? I stink at titles.

Yeah… there’s lots of work to do on this one, and that’s before I start writing!

Disclaimer: I won’t be able to use every awesome idea offered up, but if I can use your idea, I fully intend to! Don’t offer it up if you don’t want me to swipe it for the story.


  1. Lisa, I'm up early and struggling to write (I have an hour to get something accomplished and my mind is full of cement).
    I love your new h/h. Hmmmm, does your hero really look like Ewan McGregor is it just my wishful thinking?

    I like the way your story is new - an interesting time period and setting and not your average historical romance characters! Enjoy getting from A to Z!

    okay back to work...

  2. Ha! Deb are you a seat of the pantser or a plotter? I should open this up. If there are any other writers out there who want to kick around some ideas for their stories let's do it!

    For the non-writers you might find the twisted way our minds work interesting if at times a little scary. And please feel free to contribute. I know you're all readers so you have to have some ideas of what you'd love to see in a story.

  3. Well ladies I am a romance writer at best and I personally am having writers block if you will.I have hit a dead end and I am struggling to go back and put it all together.With that said I think what I would like to see is romance within a romance LOL.

  4. Anything we can help with, Louise? What do you mean a romance within a romance? Like a minor character having a romance alongside the main characters?

  5. I love this idea! You've come up with a great twist on the heroine, too. I can't wait to see where this goes. Right now, I don't have any great ideas for you, but I might come up with a title or two... let me think about it...

  6. Lisa, I am a plotter. I plot like I make lists. Right now my work in progress is completely plotted and I have the skeleton. I'm currently editing really rough chapters. But for the pantsters out there, I will say that I still am able to be surprised with what happens, because the characters still drive the action and add twists as they react.

    And after all, the characters are the ones who do the talking and I just listen and try to make sense of it for the reader!

    I like the idea of a mid-west or western setting, not NY. If I was starting the book I would make sure that my hero and heroine's goals were at complete odds, something I didn't think about before.

  7. Thanks, Jen. Titles come to you way easier than to me!

    And I'm glad you like the idea seeing as how you'll probably wind up having to read it more than once...

  8. Deb, I think you and I may work kind of alike. I always have a loose outline or map of where I'm going and how I think I'm going to get there. But I'm constantly surprised by the subplots and the other stuff my characters throw in there.

  9. Well Lisa, I am struggling with how to have my main character portray anger without words but in a subtle way.And yes characters having a romance alongside the main characters.

  10. Okay Louise, how subtle do you want? It could be something as simple as clipped sentences in the dialogue. Is it the POV character?If so they can experience a rush of hot or cold. Maybe they literally bite their tongue. Or ball their hands in fists. If it's not the POV character. Then we can see them flush or cross their arms. Even turn away from teh source of the anger. Tightening or pursing of the lips. Narrowing of the eyes.

    Hope some of those spark some ideas for you.

    Oh, and you know what. Gina's got a story she's shopping now that has a main romance and one for the secondary characters. It's a great idea. I hope someone picks up ASAP!

  11. Hi Lisa. What about a title with something about the Future in it. Like "What the Future Holds."

    I do a combo of panster and plotter. I usually start with a premise or question. Then the characters start talking in my head and I write down whatever I'm getting so I have it on paper.

    Once my brain is drained of that initial download, then I plot and move forward in a more methodical manner.

  12. So what you're saying is that you're like a one woman brainstorm? Is that it Dina?!

    I like "What the Future Holds" That works on a couple different levels. Thanks!

  13. Your story sounds like so much fun, Lisa. I'm excited to see the heroine's faith journey unfold! Thanks for sharing. It's fun to learn how stories come about.

    I recognize the pic of Jude Law anywhere...I'm in the Ewan McGregor fan club with you Deb!

  14. How kind of you not to say, "And her faith journey had better unfold," Susie! Don't worry. I was thinking of a theme about Truth. What is truth? Is there an absolute truth? How does one find truth? How does one measure it? Is it important?

    I think that'd be fitting for a postmodern generation. Wouldn't you say. Dina?

  15. I like the mid-western travelling show, snake oil era... kind of a "Gypsies, tramps and thieves" thing.

  16. Yeah, me too, Cheryl! It should be fun. I was thinking that she was came to the biz because of family connection. So hopefully I'll have lots of very interesting characters to work with.

  17. The day passed and I meant to get back to you!
    interesting idea, Lisa. Thought that a title with Truth in it something like truth or dare. At first, thought the heroine would be good as a French or Italian lady. French lady named Francine, maybe could use some of your french lessons in that. HA But after much thought and other reading think better as a gypsy type lady. Anyway am looking forward to reading this one. Love Ya!

  18. The day passed and I meant to get back to you!
    interesting idea, Lisa. Thought that a title with Truth in it something like truth or dare. At first, thought the heroine would be good as a French or Italian lady. French lady named Francine, maybe could use some of your french lessons in that. HA But after much thought and other reading think better as a gypsy type lady. Anyway am looking forward to reading this one. Love Ya!

  19. Hmm, I should get some use out of that French! If she starts out gypsy like though, that means she gets to end up better behaved in the end.

    Hm. What if her family are immigrants? She could definitely have a european accent. Or maybe she just fakes it like so much of her life.

    Good thoughts Momma, I'll have to keep ponderating on that.

  20. Lisa yes those idea's do help and I am also working on the two romances devolping in the same book.I think it is going to deepen the story and the book overall.

  21. Wonderful, Louise! I think you're right. Although you don't want them to steal all the spotlight, the more depth you add to your supporting characters, the richer the story.

    Can't wait to buy it at the bookstore!

  22. Lisa, I *so* didn't mean "her faith journey had better unfold!" tee hee. I knew you'd weave her a good story.

    I find writing characters' faith journeys challenging to plot sometimes because certain "starting points" (as it were) are taboo in CBA. Our characters have to grow spiritually but we are limited sometimes with where they start.

    Hope it's going well today!

  23. I now you didn't mean that, Susie. But if you're not going to tease me, I've gotta tease you a little bit!

    I find the faith journey challenging to plot at times because I don't want it to come off as too pat, or corny or just plain unrealistic. It can be difficult to make it feel natural and yet profound.


Share This Post

How Our Giveaways Work: The Official Rules

We, the ladies of Inkwell Inspirations, would love to give free stuff to everybody. Since we can't, we will often have a giveaway in conjunction with a specific post. Unless otherwise stated, one winner will be drawn from comments left on that post between the date it was published and the end of the giveaway as determined in the post. Entries must be accompanied by a valid email address. This address is used only to contact the commenter in the event that he/she is the winner, and will not be sold, distributed, or used in any other fashion. The odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. NO PURCHASE, PLEDGE, OR DONATION NECESSARY TO ENTER OR TO WIN. ALL FEDERAL, STATE, LOCAL AND MUNICIPAL LAWS AND REGULATIONS APPLY. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED.