I’ve always subscribed to the theory that writers are like sponges. We absorb the world around us, whether that means the news reports or the song on the radio or the couple at the next table in the restaurant who look as if they are having a fight. As writers, we take that one little headline or line from the song or body language of that couple, and we add to it. Expand on what we have observed with the writer’s favorite question “What if…”
Humankind is an ever evolving race in the way we do things, and yet with each stride we take, beneath the surface there is a hard-coded core of unchanging beliefs that have driven people since the beginning of time. This is why soap operas can stay on the air for twenty years or more, or why genres in books and movies cycle around. How many times have you heard this: “Well, that’s not selling very well right now, but hang on to it because it will be back again.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
People love and live and want the same things now as they did centuries ago. Everyone wants to be loved. People want security, to know they can live their lives without fear of losing their homes or not being able to feed their children (a challenge in today’s economy). And if something terrible happens to a person, our fast-paced twenty-first century culture helps us recognize the problems more quickly—and we have different tools with which to deal with them.
I write historical romances. The bulk of my work has taken place in the Regency time period in England. So how can I get ideas that are fresh and contemporary yet can be reflected in the historical time period where my stories take place?
Back to good old What If.
A few years ago I got an idea from a well-publicized news story about a kidnapping. The young girl in question was recovered alive, and it was clear she had been through a horrible ordeal. Yet every time I saw her on the news, she was smiling. My first thought was that if she was able to smile like that, she must have a great therapist helping her work through the trauma of her abduction—and thank God for that. I mean, how could she have begun to heal without people who knew how to guide her? What if there were no such thing as therapists? How would she have coped?
That little ‘what if’ question led to a book called JUST ONE TOUCH, about the daughter of a wealthy duke who was kidnapped but recovered alive. She coped by holing up at her father’s estate and never going out on society, but when her father learns he is dying, he must arrange a marriage for her so he knows she will be cared for when he is gone.
Modern headline, historical story.
My upcoming release (TO RUIN THE DUKE, June 2009) creates a historical story from another modern topic—identity theft. The Duke of Wyldehaven has been sequestered at his estate for more than a year, mourning the deaths of his wife and unborn child. Called to London to attend the funeral of a friend, he discovers that someone who closely resembles him is impersonating him—running up bills in his name, causing scandals and—as he discovers when the heroine enters the story—fathering children! So identity theft is alive and well in the Regency time period.
Again, modern headline, historical twist.
Ideas are all around us. We absorb them naturally due to our natures as writers. But if you write a genre that is not taking place in today’s contemporary place and culture, you can still use these ideas.
Maybe the guy impersonating your character is actually the same man, but from the future. Now you have a paranormal story. Or maybe my guy was replaced with a clone or an alien being for your science fiction book. Or maybe the person stealing his identity (and his face!) is a thousand year old demon who plans on killing everyone in town—for your horror novel, of course.
With the right twist, anything can lead to a story!
Debra Mullins is the award-winning author of eleven historical romances for Avon. She has been writing seriously for seventeen years and recently signed a new contract with Avon for two more historical romances. Read an excerpt of her new book at www.debramullins.com.