Thursday, March 8, 2012


In my last post, I mentioned the tsunami alert when I was in Hawaii and how it sparked the idea for my novel STRANGER IN PARADISE. And I could give other examples of how events in my life provided ideas for plots. But ideas come from everywhere.

Last week the post on Anne Allen’s blog (a “must read” for me) answered the frequently asked question, “How Do You Learn to be a Writer?” At the end she asked her readers to name their influences and “Read” was at the top of most lists, as it was on mine. In fact, reading good writing not only teaches you how to write effectively, but often what to write. Think of all the novels sparked by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jane Austen. I started a series about Sherlock Holmes myself--stay tuned.

And reading books is not the only way to get ideas for characters and plots. High on the list are movies, television and stage plays. Television is especially lucrative in terms of stories, because you can find them at almost every hour of the day, every day. Remember the old Alfred Hitchcock TV shows? Well, one short story writer would watch those programs, and halfway through he’d try to figure out “whodunit.” If he was wrong, he used his own version to write a short story and then sold it. Where? To Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if afternoon soap operas have been the inspiration for a whole shelf of romance and mystery novels.

Movies often get things wrong because the writers are focusing on the particular story they want to tell--and especially adding some violence and special effects to please the largest segment of Friday night filmgoers, teenagers. So their faux pas can spark ideas for a story of your own.

A stage play with only two characters inspired a book with an expanded cast by a friend of mine, and a well-known musical was responsible for a novel about a young woman with ambition who must fight against daunting odds. Mama Rose, maybe?

Keep a notebook handy when watching television or your latest Netflix movie, and--if an idea strikes--write it down quickly.

And, oh yes, did I mention that eavesdropping on conversations in theatres, restaurants, and elevators has been the beginning of many a well-told tale? I once heard of a couple who loved to get on a crowded elevator and start to tell an exciting story and then get off just before the climax. They did it for fun and really had no ending in mind, but did anyone who heard one of their “prank” stories turn it into a best-selling novel a few months later? We’ll never know.

Confession time: Did you ever use a book, movie or TV plot to prime your “idea-seeking” mind?


  1. This is a really good post, Phyllis. You made me feel less guilty for being "influenced." ;) I love the Alfred Hitchcock short story writer example. Thanks.

  2. Linsey. Thanks for your comment. That writer was really clever - ]wish I had thought of it.

  3. Great blog Phyllis!!!

    I'm a horrible tv watcher, but sometimes movies inspire me!

    Lisa :)

    1. Lisa: Thanks for the comment. Like you, I'm not much of a TV watcher - never saw a soap opera. But, thanks to Hubby wanting Netflix (he was tired of missing movies everyone talked about) I now see a lot of those. Works for me.

  4. Reading is definitely at the top of my list. I don't watch a lot of TV or see many movies, though I'm trying to do that a bit more.

    Thanks for a great post!

    1. Thanks for the comment. Glad you liked the post. I'm reading DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY by P.D. James. She captures Jane Austen perfectly. The reviewer that sent me to it said, "I couldn't`have liked it more if I were surrounded by chocolate and Colin Firth read it to me."


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