From Idea to Story
by Sybil Johnson
“Where do you get your ideas?” is one of the most common questions people ask writers. Most of us would say “everywhere.” I’ve gotten ideas from newspaper articles, items I’ve seen in catalogs, personal experiences, and dreams. For me, ideas are easy to come by. I have a whole notebook filled with them. What takes the time is developing a story around one.
Sometimes a title is the first thing that springs to mind. That was the case with my short story, “Annual Marriage Test,” published earlier this year in Mysterical-E. The title came from years of preparing taxes with my husband. One year I started calling it our “annual marriage test.” As time went on, I realized that would be a great title for a story. So, I had the title and the basic idea—a couple does their taxes—but I initially had no clue where it was going. From there I created characters, fleshed out a plot and, eventually, a full-fledged story was born.
For Fatal Brushstroke, the first book in the Aurora Anderson Mystery series, I woke up one morning with an idea: a young woman finds the body of her tole painting teacher in her garden. I’d been a fan of mysteries for years, so I knew the basic concept behind one, but I’d never attempted to write one. I soon found out I had a lot to learn.
I read books on writing fiction in general and mysteries in particular, took a couple online courses, and started writing. The first draft was ugly, the second draft was better and, eventually, years and years later, the book is being published.
Some writers do no planning at all, writing by the seat of their pants; others outline a project in great detail before putting a word on the page. My process falls somewhere in between the two extremes. I need to have some idea where I’m going before I write anything, but I don’t need to know all the details.
Once I get an idea and decide on the setting, I spend a lot of time creating characters, figuring out what they’re hiding and what makes them tick. As I’m developing my characters, I decide on the crime, the murderer and the motive. Next, I plot out the major turning points for the story and look at the crime from the killer’s point-of-view. Only then do I start writing. Knowing all these things before I start work helps me write the book faster, yet it’s flexible enough I can change my mind as I write.
There you have it, how one writer goes from idea to a story. Not every writer uses this method. There is no one approach that works for everyone. The important thing is to have a process and figure out what works for you.
About the book: A dead body in her garden and a homicide detective on her doorstep…
Suspicion falls on Rory when the body buried in her flowerbed turns out to be someone she knows—her tole painting teacher, Hester Bouquet. Just two weekends before, Rory attended one of Hester’s weekend painting seminars, an unpleasant experience she vowed never to repeat. As evidence piles up against Rory, she embarks on a quest to identify the killer and clear her name. Can Rory unearth the truth before she encounters her own brush with death?
About This Author: Sybil Johnson’s love affair with reading began in kindergarten with “The Three Little Pigs.” Visits to the library introduced her to Encyclopedia Brown, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and a host of other characters. Fast forward to college where she continued reading while studying Computer Science. After a rewarding career in the computer industry, Sybil decided to try her hand at writing mysteries. Her short fiction has appeared in Mysterical-E and Spinetingler Magazine, among others. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, she now lives in Southern California where she enjoys tole painting, studying ancient languages and spending time with friends and family.
Author LinksWebsite: www.authorsybiljohnson.com
Facebook Author page: www.facebook.com/sybiljohnsonauthor
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