Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

This is probably the most common question asked of me by folks hearing for the first time that I write mystery novels. And my go-to answer is generally, “Why, everywhere!”

But the other day, when a neighbor—who’s just now reading through my Sally Solari series—asked me this question, after providing the same stock answer as usual (with the addition of, “Hey, you might end up being the murderer in my next book”), I started musing about what a more specific answer to the question might be.

Where do I get my ideas?

It’s a potent question right now, as I’m currently in the process of doing exactly that: coming up with ideas for a new book. And it’s not easy. In fact, it’s driving me kind of bonkers.

Sure, I can tell you how or when I come up with ideas. While riding my bike, or walking my dog, or—best of all—while lying in bed in the morning before I come fully awake. (I get some terrific ideas while lying in bed. At least I think they were probably terrific. Problem is, I mostly forget them by the time I’m up and anywhere near a pad of paper of my computer…)

But where these ideas come from is an entirely different question.

I can assure you that, sadly, no golden-haired, white-gowned muse has ever once appeared before me bearing pearls of plot points.

You’ll just have to imagine the golden tresses—and the gown.

No, it’s almost always laborious grunt work that gets the deed done. Work that makes my head hurt. Brain storming and scribbling down whatever bizarre notions come to mind. Talking to my self aloud and asking question such as: “Why would she do X? Who would it affect if she did so? Would it be completely weird if my villain did Y?” Staring blankly out a window, forcing my mind to relax and let go, to allow random thoughts to come inside and see if they can make themselves at home in my new story line.

And sometimes they simply don’t come, and the harder I try to beckon inspiration, the more stubbornly it stays away.

That all said, however, there have been a few occasions in my life when I have had an idea simply plop down into my head, seemingly out of nowhere. The solution to a problem I’ve been grappling with miraculously comes into focus, or a plot twist that perfectly answers the question I’ve been searching for suddenly comes to mind.

I have no idea why this happens, or where the ideas have come from, but I can tell you that it’s gold. No, it’s better than gold. It’s triple cream brie cheese!


Readers: Do you ever talk to yourself aloud to work through issues in your life? Does it help?

Writers: Where do you get your ideas?

41 thoughts on “Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

    1. So true, Dru! Once I was sitting in a crowded doctor’s waiting room working out a conversation between two characters in my head. I wasn’t talking out loud. But I suddenly realized I was moving my lips and turning my head slightly from side to side!

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    2. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been talking out a plot point to myself and get strange looks from people. (Of course, with the advent of Bluetooth, nowadays folks just assume I’ve got someone else on the line–little do they know!)

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  1. Usually the germ of an idea comes from something like overheard conversation or a newspaper story. The book I’m working on currently comes from an old family story, something that really happened. But the work of developing that story? It’s all grunt work.

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  2. I haven’t done a scientific survey or anything, but I bet I get 95% of my ideas from newspaper and magazine articles. No matter the topic, I’m always left with a million more questions than the ones the journalist answered, and that’s quite often my jumping off point. I have a file folder of clippings for “mystery ideas” at least an inch thick, along with even larger folders of “ideas,” “characters,” and “clues.”

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    1. Oh, and some of my best brainstorms come when I’m in the shower. I’m tempted to buy a set of those crayons they make for kids’ bath times so I can capture my genius more readily. I’ve been known to call to my husband who comes running, thinking something is terribly wrong, only to say, “Hey! Write this down…”

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  3. My head never slows down, so ideas come cheap. Problem is doing something with an idea. I’ve never been able to sit down and outline a story from start to finish. For me, plot details emerge spontaneously during writing, which means that I write in fits and starts, often going back to revise, and even rearranging chapter sequence. Yes, I know it’s inefficient, but it’s what works for me.

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    1. Hey, whatever works, Tom! As Becky knows (’cause it ended up in her how-to book), I once wrote out all my many and varied and non-cohesive plot ideas, then cut them up with scissors and spent several days arranging and rearranging them on my dining table until I had a plot that made sense.)

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  4. What a fun post, Leslie! And you always have such great ideas. I get my best ideas when I am supposed to be working on a different ms. Never fails…

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  5. Nice post Leslie.
    I usually talk to someone else when I have a problem. I remember one time I was reviewing accounting records and they were not turning out right. Like I knew they were wrong, but everything I was looking at said they were right. For hours I was staring at these numbers. So I went to my boss. I started explaining the scenario behind the books and then started explaining what I was looking at. All of a sudden, the answer I was looking for came out of my mouth.

    As far as writing goes, I actually just think about what I would like to read. I don’t use the news or nothing. Like I do this Hunt-a-Killer subscription. I sent them an email last week with a suggestion for a future case. Something I had not seen them do, but I would be interested in doing. And funny thing was. I was watching an old NCIS episode last night, about the same concept.
    I usually get my ideas when I am smoking outside, pacing. I run back inside and immediately right it down.
    My mind works in mysterious ways.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Interesting, Hestia.

      My kids use the same method when doing homework problems. They’ll ask me for help, but if I just stand there and let them talk it out, they usually figure out the answer. (Thank goodness.)

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    2. So, true, Hestia. Which is why I often talk to my self aloud while cycling or walking. I’m usually too self-conscious or….something…to ask others for advice and talk out my problems with them. But perhaps I should get over that.

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  6. I feel you, Leslie! Sometimes ideas spring into my head. Sometimes an article I read, something someone says triggers one, or even a holiday. I think, hmm, what would Halloween in Cajun Country be like? Is there something uniquely Cajun about it? Like, oh say, a rougarou??? And sometimes I start with a title. That’s how I came up with thumbnail descriptions for possible Catering Hall Mystery titles. Although looking back at some of the stories – yikes! – maybe that wasn’t the best way to go.

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  7. I thought I might be talking out loud to myself by now, living alone and working from home for 51 weeks. But most of my conversations happen in my head, still. Fortunately. I don’t need further proof that I’m insane.

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  8. Great post, Leslie. My ideas come from all sorts of places: childhood games, dictionary definitions, news articles… I’ll take them all! I keep everything jotted down in a notebook for reference.

    When writing, though, I do find that distracting myself with a walk or shower or whatever helps the most with sticky plot points.

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  9. Leslie,
    I’m a people watcher (when people were around…) and build on the things they say and do. I usually get great ideas when in the shower (needless to say when I am brainstorming, I have been known to take two showers a day). I need to keep a pen and tablet in the bathroom as there have been numerous near slip and falls as I race to the computer to type up my thoughts. Thanks to all of you for your fun, thought-provoking posts

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  10. I frequently take a page from Law & Order and rip (or perhaps neatly trim) parts and pieces of newspaper headlines as inspiration for story ideas. There’s never a shortage of drama in the world, that’s for sure!

    To problem-solve sticky plot points, I often talk it out…sometimes with others and sometimes just with myself!

    Thanks for the fab and fun post, Leslie!

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  11. Such a great post! And oh, this weekend, I was in that space between asleep and awake and I sketched out a whole book idea–full outline. I was so excited to get up and write it down…then I woke up later and had no idea what it had been. *wipes tears*

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