Tonight’s guest blog post is brought to you by mystery novelist Richard Brawer.
Where do authors find their inspiration?
A novelist is a person with an extraordinary imagination, a person who is profoundly curious, a person who is widely read on many subjects and can use his / her knowledge to create plots, scenes and characters.
Newspaper crime stories as sources of inspiration
A newspaper story reporting a crime most often describes the scene, the motive, the victim, and the perpetrator, generally enough information to create a plot and characters. I found the inspiration for my first novel from such a story.
I read a horrendous article about child that was suspected to have been born with brain damage and the father refused to take him home from the hospital. The nurses were outraged and their disgust was quoted in the article. My imagination took over and I asked myself, “What if the child was misdiagnosed?”
That became the spark for a plot. A pediatric nurse who loves children but unable to have her own, steals the baby from the hospital. The nurse is murdered when the “child” is 25 and he sets out to find her killer. His mother never told him who his father is, but as he digs into the backgrounds of the five suspects, he is tormented when he realizes any of them could be his father. One is, but is his father also the murderer?
Inspiration from lectures
My grandparents immigrated to Paterson, NJ in the 1890s. They had six sons. My branch moved away when I was eleven. When I read that the Passaic County Historical Society was giving lectures on Paterson, the center of America’s silk industry in the early twentieth century, I thought it would be interesting to see what the city was like when my grandparents lived there.
The lectures were mostly about the silk strike of 1913. As I listened to the stories about the wealthy silk merchants and the hardships they heaped upon their laborers a story developed in my mind. In early twentieth century Paterson, NJ, where silk magnates rule the city with an iron fist and treat their immigrant laborers as an expendable commodity in their insatiable quest for wealth, a domineering silk industrialist clashes with his progressive suffragist wife and his radical unionist brother as he battles to save his business and keep his family from being torn apart during The Great Silk Strike of 1913 in Paterson, New Jersey.
That plot turned into “Silk Legacy”.
Inspiration from a movie
After a while, many movies begin to look the same. What distinguishes the “Die Hard” movies, from the “Bourne” movies, from “Mission Impossible?” They’re all action flicks. Again, it’s your imagination.
For example: My daughter wrote a screen play about an African-American male wrongly convicted of murder, sentenced to death, escapes from prison and fights to prove his innocence. Despite her being a lawyer in the movie industry and the screen play winning a number of awards including $1000.00 from a “Writer’s Digest” contest she was not able to generate interest from her associates in Hollywood.
I said to her, “Let me write it as a book with an African-American female protagonist as there are many African-American actresses looking for a strong, leading role.” Thus “Beyond Guilty” was born.
However, in the process the book took on a life of its own and dramatically deviated from the screen play. The only part that remained the same was the basic plot, the lead character being wrongly convicted of murder, sentenced to death, and she escapes death row and fights to prove her innocence. All the reason’s she was wrongly convicted, how she broke out of prison, the fight and chase scenes, and the ending are entirely different from the screenplay.
So I was given a thread of an idea, but I made the story my own.
Newspaper opinion pieces and essays as inspiration.
Opinion pieces and essays generally focus on a subject. Is there enough depth in that single subject to from a plot? Is there enough information to create a protagonist and antagonist?
I found that trying to write a novel from an essay is much more difficult than taking a crime story and fictionalizing that crime with whatever pops into your imagination. You need a different thought process because the essays may have been widely read.
I had to think about the questions the reader might ask. If I omit something that is obvious, readers who are familiar with the essays will be turned off. If my story sounds like the opinion piece it becomes boring. If I misstate a fact, again readers familiar with the story will say, “Didn’t happen” or “Wouldn’t happen.”
The opinion pieces that I have turned into Keiretsu, my latest novel, are about the growing Chinese military and how they are intimidating and menacing their neighbors, especially Japan. For three years I read at least one article a week on this subject which meant so did a lot of people who might read my novel.
Could I formulate a plot that wouldn’t make the reader say, “Ridculous!”
Here’s what I came up with:
An explosive political thriller ripped from the headlines. Toshio Nagoya, the ultra-nationalist CEO of Japan’s largest Keiretsu plots to build nuclear weapons to protect his country from a menacing China. Using his cousin, John Nagoya, a lawyer and second generation Japanese-American, they build a large political action committee to thwart the expected United Sates’ cease-and-desist demands.
That’s the catalyst that draws three families, Toshio’s, John’s and Senator Morrison’s, intertwined by blood and marriage into conflict with each other, and how conspiracy, lust, infidelity, revenge, betrayal and murder destroy those families.
Creating characters from your plots
The first thing I think about when creating characters is CONFLICT. Characters in CONFLICT keep the readers turning the pages. Thus the intertwining of the characters in Keiretsu.
Conflicts can be anything from mild to knock-down drag-out fights. They can be scolding, bickering, differences of opinion, veiled threats, hurt feelings, sarcasm, warnings, silently question a person’s veracity, loyalty and truthfulness. Conversations can start congenially and end up in confrontations. Once you expand your plot your imagination will automatically create conflicts.
So you see a novel can be inspired by practically anything. Just let your imagination run wild.
That was great. Thank you, Richard!
After graduating the University of Florida and a stint in the National Guard, Richard Brawer worked 40 years in the textile and retail industries. He spends his retirement years writing novels, sailing, and gardening. He has two married daughters and lives in New Jersey with his wife.
Read the book jackets which will give you additional insight into the plots, excerpts, character studies, reviews and more about Richard and his novels and find links to booksellers (including Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk) at: www.silklegacy.com.
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