Ms Fran Stewart was already in the mystery genre with her Biscuit McKee Mystery series. I reviewed the first in her new ScotShop Mystery series, A Wee Murder in my Shop. To read my review, click here. We are tickled to have a guest post from her on where she gets her ideas for her lively novels. Please welcome her!
Where do you get your ideas is one of the most frequent questions a writer hears. There’s often a pregnant pause before we answer. Our minds discard most of the answers we consider, because where we get our ideas depends on what we’re currently writing or what we’re planning to write next.
The truth—for me—is that ideas simply pop up no matter where I am. At meals, parties, with friends, alone, dancing, standing still, in snowstorms or rainstorms. Anywhere. Any time.
Unfortunately, most of those ideas are useable. Luckily, I have one technique that almost always works.
Let’s say I’m stuck with trying to make a character more believable. I need an idea NOW. To help me solve a sticky character problem or a sticky plot, I generally walk.
One frigid January, while on an artists and writers retreat on Sapelo Island, I simply couldn’t get a feel for the murderer in A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP. Every scene with that particular character felt lifeless. I bundled up and walked the mile to Nanny Goat Beach. The rain hit. I simply pulled on my hood and kept going. As the surf thundered at my left side, I heard the murderer’s voice: “Listen to me,” the waters roared. “Listen to me.”
“What makes you tick?” I walked faster. “Why are you so angry?”
The waves pounded out his answer. I heard it as clearly as if he were propelled along beside me by the ferocious wind at our backs, and I saw that the root of his anger lay a hundred years ago. I was dumbfounded. One of the problems was that I hadn’t seen him as a real person, a man with family history, a man with a back-story, a man with angst—he’d simply been the bad guy in my mind. The murderer. I hadn’t even thought of him as my murderer. I hadn’t owned him.
I hadn’t owned up to him, either.
You see, we all have murderous thoughts at one time or another—and mystery writers need to explore those thoughts. Every murder has roots somewhere. Sometimes those roots seem almost to make sense. Almost.
My job as a writer is to open a door so you can see how murder might have logically developed into what the murderer sees as his or her last possible choice.
Don’t get me wrong. I, Fran, the human being, see no logic in murder. Murdering someone as a result of the common “reasons for murder”—jealousy, anger, greed—is insane. I see murder not only as a harmful act toward the victim, but as one that immediately harms the murderer as well. Most reasonable folks manage to deal with childhood abuse, poverty, wealth, domestic violence, and even with anger, jealousy, and greed; they get the help they need, and they move on.
Sometimes, the “logic” behind a murder seems valid to us, but all too often it makes sense only to the murderer alone. A good mystery allows us all to explore not only that reasonable and/or twisted logic, but the consequences — what would happen if I acted out my homicidal impulses?
What would happen if … is the source of just about every writer’s ideas. What would happen if X killed Y … leads writers to want to find out the reason.
Let’s say I walk past you on the street as you say to a friend, “I could’ve killed him!” I don’t need to know your backstory or whether you really mean it. All I need to do is take that phrase and ask the new character sprouting in my mind: “Why?”
That’s where the good story ideas come from.
Thank you Ms. Stewart for that wonderful post and how you brought your murderer to life in your book by connecting with his roots.
Readers, what do you think makes a "bad guy" more compelling?