I’ve Got an Idea – Now What?

Today’s guest blogger is John Lindermuth, author of sixteen novels, including eight in the Sticks Hetrick series.  John is a retired newspaper editor who now serves as librarian for the county historical society, assisting patrons with genealogy and research. He is a member of the International Thriller Writers and past vice-president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society.  Here’s his take on writing a book.

One of the most common questions a writer hears is, “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s an easy one to answer–ideas are all around us.

You discover them in your reading, in what you hear (writers are notorious eavesdroppers), in what you see, and so many other places. But an idea isn’t a story. An idea is simply the germ of a story. It’s what starts you asking, “what if…”

The next step in the process is creating character(s), a plot and a story location. There’s been much debate over which is more important–character or plot. In my opinion, they’re of equal importance. You can’t have one without the other.

Speaking of the former, you want your main characters to have substance and not be paper cutouts. Readers relate to a realistically portrayed character.

So, how do you imbue them with “life?” You give them a personality. You build them from the ground up, with a past and present life, distinguishing characteristics–personality, in other words. But, by no means, do you just dump a block of description and narrative and say this is Joe Smith. You introduce the character bit by bit as you build your story, introducing your character gradually to the reader in the same manner as we learn about people we meet in real life. You don’t learn the entire life history of a person you’ve met in one encounter. Why should it be any different in fiction?

Now, as to plot, this is how it all plays out together. You introduce the crime or crimes, the detective, the investigation, discovery of motive and, eventually, the identity of the culprit. Most thrillers identity the criminal at the outset. In a mystery, I feel that takes the fun out of the story. Most mystery readers like to try and determine the criminal before it’s disclosed by the writer. Traditionally, mysteries started as this type of puzzle, providing clues throughout the narrative to lead the reader to the conclusion. Being the sneaky people we are, writers like to throw in red herrings (misleading clues) to throw readers off the track and add subplots to add more sauce to the story.

This is how an idea becomes a story.

And here is John’s latest Sticks Hetrick novel, In Silence Sealed.

Lydia, daughter of Swatara Creek Police Chief Aaron Brubaker, is accused of murdering her boyfriend Jason Russell, handsome but feckless stepson of  Clay Stoneroad, a famous writer who recently moved to a farm outside town.

Daniel ‘Sticks’ Hetrick, now a county detective, is determined to prove Lydia’s innocence. His job is made more difficult when the weapon her father insisted she carry is found missing.

Mysteries surround the Stoneroad family. Vickie Walker, a strange young woman also recently arrived in town, insists Nan Calder, the writer’s secretary, is her sister, a claim Calder denies. Then Diana Wozniak, reporter for a sleazy tabloid, is the victim of a hit-and-run accident and police learn she attempted to blackmail the writer.

The sudden disappearance of Lydia and Vickie puts Hetrick and his friends in a desperate race against time to find them, unravel secrets and apprehend the real killer.

John’s website is at http://www.jrlindermuth.net

And leave a comment.  Where do your ideas come from?  Do you start with character or plot?  We’d love to hear from you.




13 thoughts on “I’ve Got an Idea – Now What?

  1. I also get ideas from life — things that have happened to me, to friends or from simply observing. However, I also find myself inspired by newspapers. I have a book filled with the front page of newspapers from the 1940s. The headlines don’t inspire me, but stories farther down the page do. They’re usually continued on another page, which I don’t have, so I can bring my own interpretation to a story. Actually, I’d rather not know how the real life story resolved itself. I agree with you, that character and plot are both important. Excellent post!

  2. If I didn’t have insomnia, I wouldn’t have come up with half the ideas I have. For me, when the brain is supposedly “at rest” is when I get most of my ideas. I think it speaks volumes about the role of the subconscious in coming up with ideas. There are also news articles, obituaries, and just everyday occurrences that find their way into books. Great post, and I agree that characters and plot are equally important.

  3. The plot of the latest cozy cat mystery I’m working on comes from an experience I had in Austria many years ago. I’ve written several short stories using this experience and finally figured out how it would become a full length novel. So we have a duel story; taking place with the cats in California, and with his ‘person,’ vacationing in Austria. Other ideas for novels just pop into my head… who knows where they come from. ???

  4. I get my ideas mostly from things that have happened to me. By the time I twist and turn and add to those events, they turn into something very different from what really happened, but that’s usually the spark that prompts my story. I had a post on the Writers Who Kill blogspot a couple of years ago on this same subject. Mine was quite different, but I enjoyed writing about how people get their ideas. This was very interesting.

  5. Excellent advice! Ideas for writing surround us. I get a lot of ideas for writing fiction from the real world, people I know, overhearing snatches of conversation, and reading nonfiction. As to characters, for each novel I maintain a character bible. As you say, we need to know our characters from the ground up, as if they are real people, well-rounded with thoughts, opinions, good and bad traits, etc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *