Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Eye on the Starting Gate

A month ago you started browsing several branches of the local library by day and exploring the recesses of your fevered brain by night, in search of a seminal idea for your new book or short story. You find it’s impossible to guess, let alone decide, what to write about, although you do have ideas about what you should do—that high concept thriller that might bring in some cash, that paranormal high school tennis club that could make you a fortune. Still, something is holding you back.

You find yourself discarding each logical choice in turn and then, if you’re lucky, something unexpected happens. A seemingly random connection—let’s say between a salsa dancer and an Eskimo—scores a direct hit, demolishing the competition and leaving no choice but to tell this particular story, set in that particular place.

Has this happened to you?

If so, please share. If not, please share your own “starting gate” process.


  1. Congratulations on your new blog, Joyce! I wish I had something solid to share about my process, but I'm afraid I'm still wrestling for control. The one thing I have noticed is that I tend to start the noodling process with a body, and then move along to the villain. There are occasional ah-ha! moments but for the most part I find I have to do a lot of planning while watching for the "hmmm, I think I like that" moments!

  2. Great topic, Joyce! Like Susan, I go through some noodling and ask myself a lot of what ifs. Typically in the bathroom. For whatever reason, my starting gate process has to have water running. :) Sort of a wash, rinse, repeat cycle before I can move forward and flesh out the characters, do interviews, research, etc. I'll look forward to reading what others have to share.

  3. I am waiting for the deep creative part of me to awaken. (grin) In the meantime I am practicing the craft. As far as a magic moment when an idea comes to me, I haven't been ready for it. I seem to slide into story choices. The first novel length story, I chose after grabbing an idea from a friend to get something written in a hurry for a college class. The second one, written for NaNoWriMo and Cherry Adair's "Write the Damn Book" challenge, was also a quick choice. I'm in the thick of revision on that one. Hard to pick a story subject when I haven't settled on a genre!

  4. I've blogged about Wendy's comment how the shower is one great source of inspiration (do not ask me why!) and also about how "eavesdropping" is often my own "starting gate".
    For me, I'm finding as I grow as a writer it can be different with each project.
    Thanks for making us think, Joyce!

  5. Eavesdropping - what a great starting point, Lori. Can you give us an example?

  6. I get a lot of ideas for short stories just browsing through magazines in a library. Actually, libraries are my favorite places.

    Jacqueline Seewald
    (Published today! August 18, 2010)

  7. I received an email from someone who is having computer problems and asked asked me to post her comment for her - and it's fascinating:

    "I like to start with the victim in my historical mystery series featuring two nosy Puritans. (Puritans had a duty to be nosy and keep an eye on their neighbors, so I figured they would make good detectives.) I just get an image of a victim in my mind and then proceed to unravel the story from there. For instance, in my first book, MURDER, MATHER AND MAYHEM, I just kept getting the image of a man in a woman's robe hanging over a branch of
    the Old Oak on Boston Common. That was a tough one to explain! In the latest book, DEATH OF A DANCING MASTER, (book #4, out in the Fall,) my image was of a man in a pool of blood with a fencing foil sticking out of his gut. In my current work, DEATH OF A CAPE COD CAVALIER, I
    saw a man floating face down in the water with a knife sticking out of his back. These images get me out of the starting gate."

    Marilyn aka:
    M. E. Kemp (web site: mekempmysteries.com.)

  8. I have the opposite problem, Joyce. I have so many ideas that I have trouble focusing on just one. Not really a problem, though, more like a blessing.

    BTW, I've added you to my Five Star blogroll on my blog. I don't do the networked blog thingie, but if you add the regular Google Connect follow gadget, I'll gladly follow.


  9. Thanks for the tip about Google Connect, Patricia - I've added the widget, gadget, watchyamacallit code to this blog.

  10. Hi Joyce -- from another Joyce. Because I write historicals based on real people's lives, I have ideas waiting to be written .Sadly, some people's stories will never be told, but I'm writing as fast as I can. I like your blog title, BTW, and now I'm a follower (if it worked right. I'll see when I go to FB.)

  11. I'm like your computer problem friend, I start with the murder.
    My WIP started with a story my hair color teacher told our class when I was in beauty school about his getting pulled over on the freeway.
    He was on his way to a hairstyling competition. Something in his car caught the officer's attention so he asked my teacher to pop his trunk. Ten doll heads fell out of the trunk at the officer's feet. He nearly arrested my teacher before he realized that they weren't severed heads!
    My poor victim will lose his head only to be found in a bin of doll heads at a hairstyling competition. :-)

  12. I can't speak for Lori Lynn but I, too, usually get my inspiration from "eavesdropping." What this means for me is a gigantic quote book that I keep and return to whenever I'm stymied. The quote book has become legend among my various friend groups, and my students vie with one another to make it into the book. It also gives me some excellent one-liners for dialogue.

    For instance: "I think I've run naked more often than I've eaten popcorn." What's not inspiring about THAT sentence? :)

  13. Wow - when I started this topic I had no idea so much fascinating material would surface. I'm definitely going to ramp up on my eavesdropping! And I love the "twist" in the true story as a way of jump starting out of the gate.