|Photo courtesy of M. Hollis Hutchinson|
In our continuing series on where authors get their ideas, today we feature Maggie Foster. Maggie writes the Loch Lonach Mystery Series, featuring modern day descendants of the Scottish immigrants who settled in Texas. Learn more about Maggie and her books at her website.
The De’il is in th’ Details
Years ago, when Jurassic Park came out, I realized I had missed a bet. That could have been my novel turned into a blockbuster movie. After all, I had read the same National Geographic article about how some frogs, when in a same-sex environment, can change to the opposite sex, so the species can continue. “Life will find a way.”
I’m not suggesting I had the talent, experience, craft, or courage to write that novel at that point in my life. I’m just saying I noticed the detail, thought it mildly interesting, then put it away. When I saw how Michael Crichton had used that tiny bit of information in his story, it hit me like a punch in the solar plexus.
I write murder mysteries. My background is in healthcare, with an overlay of law, and a smoor of teaching. The combination has served me well in the field of creating crime, but it took me years to realize how critical tiny details were to storytelling. Now, when I read or hear something that is unusual, obscure, or rare, I write it down, then set myself an exercise in brainstorming. What if that detail was the pivotal bit of evidence that cracks the case for my detective?
This requires research, sometimes a lot of it. I don’t limit myself to the Internet, since everyone has access to the same things I can reach that way. Instead, I read. Everything. I read news articles about accidental poisonings. I read FEMA and OSHA regulations. I read dry scientific treatises on why we will never be able to clone a living human being. I read it all. The more obscure, the better. Then I pick out what I want to use and get to work.
The second stage of writing is just that – writing. Get the rough idea down on (electronic) paper and start tinkering. What is do-able, as it stands today? What would I like/need for it to do? What changes can I get away with? (This is fiction so everything is fair game, except there are rules for the genre and I must follow them or be relegated to the fires of hell.)
Plan for the writing to evolve. That lovely little kernel of an idea must become a Percheron, hauling the reader along with it, without anyone really caring how the beer got from point A to point B.
I have thousands of details lined up in my files, simmering. Most will never see the light of day, but some, like the frog sex detail above, could blossom into a classic. If you want to write and you think you can’t come up with ideas, may I suggest that instead of looking for a story that will fit the Hero’s Journey format, you consider letting your ideas grow organically. Let them lead you from the critical bit of knowledge your protagonist needs but didn’t know she had, to the inevitable conclusion of a new classic. Happy writing!
The Arms of Death
Loch Lonach Mystery, Book 1
Everyone dies. Not everyone dies because they chose the wrong ancestors.
When one of her ICU patients dies unexpectedly, amateur sleuth Ginny Forbes finds herself on the trail of a centuries-old secret that is of no importance and no interest to anyone other than herself. Except, of course, that no tale of secrets is ever that simple and Ginny is about to find out just how dangerous idle curiosity can be.
In the manner of Peter Wimsey, Miss Marple, and Brother Cadfael comes a series of murder mysteries set in a community peopled by evocative characters that read like old friends. The distinctive Scottish voices offer a glimpse into a world not usually open to modern mystery readers and the deftly woven tales of deceit and greed will have everyone cheering the triumph of good over evil. The men in kilts just make it that much more fun.