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Donna Rewolinksi Asks Where Do You Get Story Ideas?

Donna Rewolinksi is the author of the Novice mystery series, featuring husband and wife team Dan and Karen Novice. You can find out more about her here, see her books here, and read her last post here.

When my first novel was published, I donated a copy to a small local library. The librarian told me she had never met an author before, but that the Friends of the Library Committee were working on a new event for patrons named, “An Author Walks into a Library”. It would be an evening event where an author would talk about their book, answer questions, and be available to sell and sign copies. I was honored to be the first author. The evening of the event, I was asked several questions, including who the characters were based on, why I’d chosen to set the book in a foreign country, what were some challenges to writing a novel, etc. You get the idea. Inevitably, the question was asked, “Where do you get you story ideas from?”

Ideas just seem to ‘pop’ into my head, so I hadn’t given the topic much thought before then. I stumbled for a cohesive answer and relayed the story of how the plans my husband and I had made for the weekend had been upended due to his being called to the police department to investigate a fatal accident. How he had worked all night, finally making it home and as he was falling asleep, he said, “This is so we can have our dream of vacationing in foreign countries for months when we retire.”

I replied, “With my luck, you’ll get involved with an investigation there, too.” This was how the plot of my series came to be, but what about the actual mystery, such as who will be the murderer, the victim, means, motive, and how it’s solved? Where do those ideas come from?

In subsequent talks that same question was asked. Maybe people were concerned about what kind of person thinks like this? I continued to struggle for a fun, quirky answer until I came upon a quote by an anonymous source posted on Facebook; I chose my friends how I like my cocktails…Strong, fabulous and with a twist.

I varied my answer a bit to be, “I write my books how I like my cocktails…Strong, fabulous and with a twist. What mystery or thriller writer hasn’t spent hours trying to have their novels read this way. Each of us spend a great deal of time agonizing over characters, plots, clues, red herrings, settings, and all the other details. My series involves a husband-and-wife team, Dan and Karen Novice. The goal is that each is their own person with different past careers, experiences, perspective, and voice. They complement each in their strengths and approach to situations, thus forming a dynamic unit. Every one of my books is set in a different foreign country, yet I focus on making additional persons in the book, unique from others in previous novels. Writers don’t want the same plot, finding the murderer the same way, and the protagonist to be flawlessly brilliant. No offense to Sherlock Holmes. The strong and fabulous parts.

When I get to a point in the novel and am at a loss for how to move the plot along, I’ve had countless discussions with my characters, but they aren’t being helpful, and then the answer is suddenly, there. The moment of inspiration when the pieces of the story come together and it’s believable, it’s magic to write. There’s nothing more satisfying to a mystery writer as when a reader states, “I read your book. I was sure I knew who the suspect was, got to the end and was wrong. I didn’t suspect that character, but it made sense.” Yes, the inevitable surprise!

The joy is keeping the reader engaged until the end with people, places, means, and emotions that can be understood and related to, until the end when, hopefully, the author successfully pulls the ending together. The twist.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Laurie Buchanan
    Laurie Buchanan

    Donna — I’ve read your books and they stand up to the litmus test: “Strong, fabulous and with a twist.” Brava!

  2. Margaret Mizushima
    Margaret Mizushima

    Great post, Donna! This sounded familiar to me, the husband being called out to an emergency and the wife staying at home (perhaps to write a novel). Only my husband is a vet, the work not quite as dangerous but still in a profession that gives me story ideas. I enjoyed this morning’s Blackbirds blog post! Thank you!

  3. Sherrill Joseph
    Sherrill Joseph

    Donna, your line, “The moment of inspiration when the pieces of the story come together and it’s believable, it’s magic to write” jumped out at me. I live and write for that as, I’m sure, all writers do. It’s like being in “the zone” when you are smiling as you compose, and you’re saying out loud to no one in particular, “Wow, this is good!” Your fingers fly around the keyboard because your ideas, wherever they just materialized from, take flight. Thanks for your post.

  4. Anne Louise Bannon
    Anne Louise Bannon

    There’s nothing like it when the characters start talking to you in your head. It’s like the meme said, “I’m a writer. I make the voices in my head work for me!”

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    Congratulations on achieving your dreams of writing and traveling. There is magic in both of those, as well.

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    What fun to write a series where each book takes place in a different country!

  7. Sheila Lowe
    Sheila Lowe

    How lovely to have someone to bounce those ideas off! I’m looking for a few (ideas) right now.

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    Isn’t it amazing how real life provides the fodder for a good mystery? And yet, no one would suspect how simple incidents grow in the mind of a writer. If they did, we probably wouldn’t have friends. A fun post!

  9. Christine DeSmet
    Christine DeSmet

    Yes, every scrap of real life is possible fodder for our mysteries. This can unnerve acquaintances sometimes, but it does keep them on their best behavior so we’re not tempted to put them at the center of the crime in our pages. For my characters I’m constantly diving into the immigration history of Swedes, Norwegians, Belgians and others in Wisconsin. I find many good ideas for my contemporary Fudge Shop Mystery Series in the characters and stories of immigrants. I’m teaching a workshop on how to write a mystery and you’d be amazed at how swiftly a plot comes together just by reading about the people in our past in our communities.

  10. Tracey Phillips
    Tracey Phillips

    I love your “twist” on the quote! “I write my books how I like my cocktails, strong with a twist.” You and me both, sister! Thanks Donna for the great post. Next time I’m looking for story ideas, I may come calling at your door.

  11. Joy Ann Ribar
    Joy Ann Ribar

    Excellent post, Donna. When you talk about the magic of writing, it reminds me of just how privileged I am to be able to write and share my stories, too. Sometimes, we take our own writing for granted until we do a Q and A with readers and find out how much they respect well written plot and characters. I’m reading Ireland right now and enjoying the escape.

  12. Sharon Lynn
    Sharon Lynn

    Like a lot of people, my favorite line in this post is the cocktail comparison! The little town where I stayed in the Hebrides reminded me of your Irish village. It had me looking for dead bodies around every corner 🙂

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