Monday, May 14, 2012

Story Ideas are Everywhere

Today my guest is author Jim Callan, who shares about finding ideas for writing stories.

We Are Surrounded by Story Ideas
by Jim Callan

I’m often asked where ideas for a book come from. I’ve spoken and written on this before. For a writer—at least once he or she really gets into the routine of writing—ideas are everywhere. The newspaper and TV news programs are full of ideas. My 95,000 word novel The Silver Medallion was the result of reading a two paragraph article in the Los Angeles Times.

Two years ago, a number of churches in east Texas were burned. The police finally caught the two young men who were setting the fires. But no real motive came out. It appeared to be a prank to see if they could get away with it. I thought about the fires and began to wonder what motive a person might have to burn several churches. Out of that came Cleansed by Fire, a novel released this spring.

William Carl wrote his first novel, The Prize, based on some of his experiences as a chemist. He said he introduced a murder to make it more interesting, but the basics of the story were similar to his real life. Another of his books, Daring to Love, was a fictionalized version of a real-life drama he watched while he was in management.

The Sickle's Compass, by Stephen Woodfin, is a work of fiction whose central theme is Alzheimer’s Disease. Woodfin had dealt with this progressive disease in his family.

Walt and Ann Davis took a trip, visiting every Texas county that touched the border of the state. Out of that came their illustrated book Exploring the Edges of Texas.

My youngest daughter, Diane Bailey, sang in a chorus that placed fifth in the International finals of the Sweet Adelines. We decided that would be a good setting for a murder mystery. Murder a Cappella was published by Wayside Press just last month.

Some time back, I read an interesting folk tale about Texas before it was an independent country. I don’t write historical novels. So, I wondered how that folk tale could affect life in the twenty-first century. A novel (as yet unpublished) resulted from reading this folk tale. The book is 90,000 words long; the folk tale was four pages. Clearly, long novels can come from small prompts.

Corey Mitchell, a Los Angeles Times bestseller, writes true crime. He searches for some crime already resolved and researches all the facts. He then weaves those into an interesting book. Obviously, they are popular books.

Take a story from the day’s news and ask the famous writer question: what if? What if the crime had not been solved? What if the police made a mistake and arrested the wrong man? What if the victim had been a celebrity, or not a celebrity? What if the girl had gotten on the wrong bus and this handsome man had helped her find her way back? What if the boy’s dog had been hit by a car and wasn’t there to defend the little boy? What if you gave a mouse a piece of chocolate? What if the President ‘s daughter, just as a lark, escaped from her bodyguards? What if the star quarterback broke his thumb before the big game with all the scouts present? What if you were writing your memoir and discovered a family secret that (pick one) shocks, amazes, terrifies, enlightens, changes your view on …? What if you find some letters from your grandmother that no one else has seen? What if your reclusive neighbor suddenly needs your help and must explain why he lives as he does?

Then, let your mind tumble ideas and see where they lead. Nothing is impossible. Outlandish things can happen. The range of things people are capable of, good or bad, is unbounded. And no character you can dream up is beyond reality. You cannot make your characters bigger than life. But you can make them bigger than normal, bigger than those around you, bigger than you have in previous writings.

Fiction is without bounds. Let you imagination run wild on story and characters. Do not be afraid to write an outlandish story. As unbelievable as you might think it is, it is not stranger than real life. There is only one restriction on you.

You must write it well.

* * * * *

James R. Callan took a degree in English, intent on writing. He went to graduate school in mathematics to support a family. He has received grants from the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Data Processing Management Association. He has been listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science, and Two Thousand Notable Americans.

But writing was his first love. He has published a number of books, both fiction and non-fiction, and picked up several awards along the way. Cleansed by Fire, 2012, is the first of the Father Frank mysteries. The trailer for Cleansed by Fire is here. Murder a Capella, a Sweet Adelines mystery, was released in April by Wayside Press. (View the book trailer here). Callan wrote this mystery with one of his daughters, Diane Bailey, a well published YA author.

Callan lives with his wife in east Texas and Puerto Vallarta. They have four grown children and six grand children. You can learn more by visting his website.

Disclaimer: I have not read Jim Callan's books and therefore do not have an opinion on them. The views expressed in this guest post are those of the author, Jim Callan, and may or may not reflect the views of Mocha with Linda.


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