Friday, January 15, 2010

Writing Journey: Idea Seedlings

One of the most common questions writers get is how they come up with their ideas, so I thought I'd mention a few of mine. I've chronicled many of them throughout my WJ series, but here's a couple that are a bit different:

Band of Sisters, which will be out in March (as if I haven't blathered about that one enough lately!), came about in a very different way than my typical book ideas do. (Then again, do I have a typical way?)

I've talked a bit about it before, how I first wrote an article about women whose husbands were deployed. That article was inspired by a close friend going through that very experience, and I interviewed her and several of her friends for the piece.

I was able to use only a tiny percentage of what they gave me for the article, and that killed me. Their stories and feelings kept nagging at me, as if I had to do more with them to do them justice. And then I realized that there could be an entire book there. So I wrote a novel about five women who become friends through their husbands' deployment.

While I call it my "deployment novel," the women of my critique group get on my case for it, because really, the book is more than that. The book really is about women, their personal issues, their interactions, their friendships, their strengths. And yes, it's about deployment, too.

None of the women in the book are representative of any of five I interviewed (truly, it's FICTION!), but the types of feelings and thoughts I gave them in are true to what the women expressed in their interviews, and I did get a few lines from them (such as the basic but oh-so-true concept that rest of us "just don't GET it!" and that if they heard one more woman say they "understand" because their husband "travels a lot," they'd scream).

The murder mystery I wrote several years ago and am now reworking was sparked by a conversation I had with my police officer brother. There had been a report of a rape in a parking lot at a store in the town I lived in at the time. As a woman who shopped there, I expressed concern over it. He shrugged and said, "Don't worry about it. It's probably a false report."

I was stunned. How could he be so callous?

Oh, but he wasn't callous at all. He explained. Apparently, the vast majority of rape charges are false accusations. In Utah, they tend to fall into three categories:

1) The "victim" is ticked off at her boyfriend (for breaking up or whatever) and wants revenge, so she lays a charge of rape to get back at him. Even if the charge is dropped, it remains on his record and can affect his life later, such as for career background checks.

2) The girl is clueless enough to not know what "rape" means, and while something happened, and maybe she didn't like it or approve of it, whatever happened was not rape. (This one is ridiculously common, apparently, even in today's world.) I gave up trying to keep a straight face when my brother told me some of the things girls had accused their boyfriends or dates of that they assumed were rape. I wanted to go up to those girls, take them aside, and explain to them some basic biology.

3) And here's the Utah-Mormon one: A girl and boy consensually cross the line, and the girl freaks out. She doesn't want anyone to know what she did and is afraid of confessing to her parents or her bishop, so she claims it was rape (all HIS fault) so she's not the one in trouble.

Three common false charges. At that point in his career, my brother had yet to see a rape charge that hadn't turned out, upon investigation, to land into one of the those three categories: fake. (That was a long time ago, though. I should ask him if he's seen a real one yet.)

This whole thing frankly ticked him off, because he knew that women really are victims of rape, and that not only are they generally terrified of stepping forward, but when they do, they are often not taken seriously because of the deluge of fake charges out there.

If the women tempted to make fake charges would just keep their mouths shut, the real victims would be heard and the real perpetrators could be locked up.

I found the concept both horrifying and fascinating, but I wasn't convinced. That is, until about two weeks later, when the newspaper reported that the woman from the parking lot who'd laid the rape charge had made it up.

My jaw hung open. My brother had called it: another fake rape charge.

Most of the women in my neighborhood heard the news with relief: they could shop there again without fear. My brain went a different direction, of course: this is something I could write about. It was the seedling that sparked the idea for the murder mystery.

Later, as I watched an episode of John Doe, someone said a line (I don't even remember the episode's plot or who said it) that make my head come up, and the pieces snapped into place.

What if . . .

And right then, I knew where the story was going to go.

I won't delve into much more, because that would ruin it. But I will say that for those who have read Lost Without You, it features the same characters a decade later. Angela (who was 8 in that book) is now a high school senior. Her father, Greg, who was a patrol officer in that book, is now a detective. A serial killer has worked his way from Colorado to Utah. Angela's best friend is murdered, and Greg's on the case. And yes, the three false rape scenarios play a big role in the story.

I've found plot, character, and other ideas from all kinds of places, including an advice column in a newspaper, a radio talk show, a random article in a book, a dream (unfortunately, none as lucrative as ones about sparkling vampires), locations I've visited, a painting, and more, like that conversation with my brother paired with a random line from a TV show.

I never know where my next idea will come from. And that's half the fun: keeping my eyes and ears open and always thinking, "What if?" I love the moment with the idea crystallizes, comes into focus, and I see the bigger picture.

I'm in the the thinking stage for another project right now. I can't wait for the "aha" moment to get here so I can attack the keyboard and uncover the rest of it.


Unknown said...

You motivate me more than you know. I can NOT wait to give you the hug you've got coming, sister!

Stephanie Black said...

That's really freaky about the false rape charges. I had no idea it was that common.

Your murder mystery sounds awesome.

Sarah M Eden said...

I'm am seriously considering having a t-shirt printed that says something along the lines of "Be careful what you say. It might end up in my next novel." Inspiration comes at the strangest times and from all over the place.
Can't wait for Band of Sisters.

Annette Lyon said...

The acknowledgments for The Actor and the Housewife, Shannon Hale says basically the same thing: that she got a lot of ideas from people who didn't know she was listening to them. So beware what you say--a writer might be listening.

Krista said...

Hey, I have the t-shirt-- a gift from my siblings when my book was accepted: "Careful, or you'll end up in my novel." (pic at

Unfortunately, I am sitting on a great novel idea(even have the title) and I can't do a thing because it is real and too recognizable to those around me. But the shirt made me laugh.

Heather of the EO said...

I love that there IS an "aha moment," and that you can count on it coming to you because you're living a dream. I just love it.

I also cannot WAIT to meet you at CBC! SO excited. :)

wendy said...

I think sometimes when a person is blessed with a certain talent --in your case, writing. That you are "tuned in" to ideas. You recognize them and know where to go with them
but that is just me, who doesn't have a clue what I am talking about since I am not a writer and lacking in the "talent" category.

but you do have great ideas

Lara Neves said...

Very cool. I definitely think creative inspiration is everywhere, and if my eyes are open and my mind is quick, I will find it.

Amanda D said...

Very interesting, Annette.
Good luck with the murder mystery. Sounds intriguing!

Julie Wright said...

You are awesome! I love your thinking processes.

Cranberryfries said...

Ok first I thought it was interesting that you wrote 'wants to revenge' instead of she wants revenge. Made me think about it.

Secondly it all sounds so fascinating. I need to work on that. Pulling pieces in from everywhere, getting a little nugget and figuring out, what next. Fun ideas you have!


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