Many things give me story ideas. The obvious is PEOPLE WATCHING.
Listening to dialog, whether it’s in a restaurant, on a bus, or at a coffeehouse—my ears and senses are wide open for the way a person walks, the tone of their voice, their clothes, the topic of conversation, and, of course, the emotions locking into their face. I press play on my imagination to record what I see and hear. Eavesdropping is the best way to find story lines, infuse a character description, or spice up the story’s dialog.
As I walk about, my senses are keen to what lines the streets: building shapes, names of the stores, cafés, homeless, outdoor vendors, people’s personal styles, the sky, and overall colors and smells. I look at the cars, but not so much their make, but any license plates standing out. This peaks my imagination—why are you here? If it’s a sunny day, the mix is ripe—because the outdoors are fluid with sights and sounds. Quiet observations burst my imagination.
What I’m looking for are ideas, one is quite poignant. This is how I came up with the premise for my last book ~~~ The Last Merry Go Round.
Years ago, on an early morning in Westwood, California, I was waiting for a traffic light to change. What I saw in less than two minutes set the premise for The Last Merry Go Round. A silver convertible Porsche stopped at the red light turn signal. The passengers, both were dressed as if they owned Beverly Hills. The male was the driver and a woman sat beside him. Before the light changed, the man, without hesitation. . . backhanded this woman several times. He didn’t look around to see who was looking, and she didn’t either. Her head tilted down into her chest. She listened. I listened. “You fucking bitch. I’m your husband. You do what I tell you to do.” The light changed. The car sped off. The scene stained my mind, and years later, I came up with a story about Diane and Richard’s fractured marriage.
Another source for me is TRAVEL MAGAZINES. These serve not just as inspiration of where I want to travel and set up shop writing for a few months, but also as canvasses for descriptions of places I’ve not been to. If I don’t keep the whole magazine, I cut out pictures and articles. I got some great treasures on New Orleans, Paris, New York, Montreal, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Barcelona, Prague, Brussels, London, Venice, Santa Barbara, the Oregon coast, Carmel, Big Sur. . . what I’m looking for is atmosphere. Pictures capturing a sunset, a jazz bar, a bridge, a beach, a bookstore, a market—all those highlights that make the city and place a must to visit. Believe me, when I saw these places in person, a picture doesn’t do them justice.
TELEVISION is a source I use as a treat. I limit my hours and when I do watch, it’s British dramas. I find them character-driven and not formulaic. The Village, Cranford, The Mill, Prime Suspect, Luther, The Lilies, and more than I can name have exposed me to excellent writing gravitating to character development and plot.
There are many more vessels, whether fiction of non-fiction, a writer can draw upon. These are just a trickle of mine.