Like a lot of authors, I’m frequently asked where I get my ideas and how I come up with my characters. Of course, there are dozens of answers to this. There isn’t some foolproof magical idea-generator that can be picked up at the As-Seen-On-TV store. Characters cannot, unlike catnip or Chia pets, be grown in convenient little pots on the kitchen counter.
I suppose for me, ideas and characters are more like cockroaches than anything. They wait until the lights are off and I’m trying to sleep, at which point they come creeping out of the woodwork. They skitter around the house, getting into stuff, until they get bored and come wandering into the bedroom. They crawl up the side of the bed, tiptoe across the pillow, and—okay, I suppose the similarity ends there, but you get the idea. Long story short, I’m an insomniac, and my characters think it’s funny to drop ideas in my head when I’m trying to sleep. Jerks.
Sometimes, though, I go looking for ideas, and I do have a technique that has rarely failed me. My method for that goes back to a little game some of my friends played when we were teenagers. If you’ve never done this, I highly recommend it, whether you’re a writer or not.
Find a restaurant on a somewhat busy street (with at least a few people on the sidewalk, etc), and get a table by the window. From your vantage point, scan the crowd until someone catches your eye. We’ll start with that lady at the bus stop with the red baseball cap.
She looks all unassuming and average, but you see that bag by her feet? The one she keeps toeing like she wants to make sure it hasn’t moved? There’s a cobra in there. It’s sleeping now, but only because the two of them are on their way to work.
And the guy on his cell phone, pacing in front of the espresso cart with a water bottle in his hand? He’s a rookie CIA agent, and he’s trying to convince his boss he’s found the Cobra Assassin. Yes, at a bus stop. Yes, right here. Yes, visual confirmation, seriously. But his boss thinks he’s an idiot because of that incident last month when, in a moment of lapsed judgment and mistaken identity, he tasered a Swedish diplomat.
Sucks being the new guy.
You get the idea.
These days, I play this little game at home instead. I have accumulated about, to date, 15,000 pictures of people on my computer. Some celebrities, some not. Random people, stock photos, you name it. (How do I find anything? I have OCD…you’d be amazed how meticulously these images are organized. I can find any one picture in about 60 seconds flat.)
When I’m hard up for an idea, I go grab a dozen or so pictures from those files. Usually a mix of male and female, with as wide a variety as I can in terms of expressions, etc. I lay them out on a single Photoshop document. Then I sit back and say, “Tell me your story.”
Okay, I don’t usually say it out loud. My cats think I’m crazy enough. But you get the idea. And speaking of getting an idea, it doesn’t usually take long before the pictures start telling their story. This guy really wants that girl, but can’t because that guy is a total douche and broke her heart. Not usually that simple, but there you go. And quirks come from the pictures too. Bastian, the main character of With the Band, ended up with a German accent and a tongue piercing even though I based him off a picture of an American guy who does not, as far as I’m aware, have his tongue pierced. Why? I don’t know. Why did the lady on the bench have a cobra in her bag? Who knows? She just did.
From there, the characters evolve, and so do their stories. So, if you’re ever stuck for an idea, or just want a good laugh, give it a try. It’s a lot of fun, and can be great for breaking through a creative funk.
And…if you think I’m insane, you’re probably right.
L. A. Witt is an erotica writer who is said to be living in Okinawa, Japan, with her husband and two incredibly spoiled cats. There is some speculation that she is once again on the run from the Polynesian Mafia in the mountains of Bhutan, but she’s also been sighted recently in the jungles of Brazil, on a beach in Spain, and in a back alley in Detroit with some shifty-eyed toaster salesmen. Though her whereabouts are unknown, it is known that she also writes hetero erotic romance under the pseudonym Lauren Gallagher.
As L. A. Witt:
With the Band – March 22, Loose Id LLC
Getting off the Ground – April 3, Amber Allure
A.J.’s Angel – May 31, Samhain Publishing
As Lauren Gallagher:
Damaged Goods – TBA, Loose Id LLC
Disengaged – September 15, Champagne Books