I draw inspiration for stories from two main sources: tumblers and plaques.
The first source is tumblers where I playing around with a world. I enjoy building communities, exploring professions, interpersonal conflicts, friendships, families, and economies. I like writing communities because they change over time. People move away, they move into a place, people start businesses, businesses fail. There’s always a push and a pull.
I play around with tropes, professions, and how they interact with the meta-story. I get an understanding of a meta-conflict that can keep a series going, and then I drill down to individual stories.
I love playing around with tropes. I learn about tropes from different sources. The first source is TV tropes(1). TV tropes does an excellent job breaking down the plot points, identifying common aspects of the main characters, and linking the story to the broader genre. If you’re not careful, you can lose a week of your life on that website.
The second is Mindy Klasky’s website(2). Mindy’s website has a variety of romance-related tropes. They serve as touch points to craft a story around. The third is Go Teen Writers, which has an impressive list of romance tropes.
I think in terms of process and structures. Once I have a sense of the story’s structure, I set out to make the characters unique. I create characters with unusual professions. For example, in my upcoming release, Seven Points of Contact, Miranda is a car loan officer, and Jonas was a salesman but is considering opening a sporting goods store. Characters with professions that aren’t normally portrayed in stories are more interesting to write. The characters bring different skills and experiences to the romance (in my case because I write romances) and the non-romance plot (I always include a non-romance plot).
I play around with professions and tropes. What’s more interesting for characters with those professions to do? Is it more dynamic to have an enemies to lovers or a road trip trope? I fiddle around with the dynamics, see which one generates more conflict, and take it from there.
I write long series. I keep a series-long table of the characters, professions, the romance and non-romance tropes (mystery, thriller, action-adventure, etc.) I ensure that each book has a unique combination of these variables.
For my Outdoorsmen Series (contemporary crime romance), the common thread is people who like being outdoors. I ask myself what kinds of jobs they have, what are their interests, what problems do their jobs and hobbies cause. If someone likes fishing and gets up at 4am, that will cause problems with their significant other who likes to stay out late at comedy clubs.
I played with professions (different environmental law enforcement officers in Environment Canada, the province of Ontario) and different love interests (translater or intellectual property lawyer with a food business). I played around with the crimes they solve.
Tumblers: romance trope, crime(s), professions.
For my mines and minerals series, I look at the historical context (western Canada in circa 1885). I think of the hardy souls who would have endured the long journeys and the brual cold and pioneered. I think of the First Nations who lived there for thousands of years and their cultural shock at encountering Europeans. Which dynamics that does this create that can be harnassed for a good story?
Tumblers: romance trope, non-romance trope (save the ranch, start a business on the frontier, etc.) professions.
For my Heartened by Sports series, the common thread is sports. What kind of sports do people play, how does that impact their lives, are they professionals or amateurs, what are the dynamics of that community (competitive sports with an eye on the big leagues or amateur with an eye for the beer after the game)?
Tumblers: sports, non-sports income, romance trope, non-romance plot.
I call this process a tumbler process. I look at the combinations, see which ones click, and ensure that each combination (a book in a series) is unique. For example, I write western historical romances. One book might have a rancher as a lead character who experiences a friends to lovers romance on an action-adventure trope. If I have a second rancher in that series, they will have an enemies to lovers trope and a thriller non-romance trope.
The second source of inspiration is history. Yes, I’m the person who reads historical plaques. At the beginning of this blog, the picture is the plaque from a statute in Savannah, Georgia. I found it interesting that a regiment of troops of African ancestry from Saint-Domingue was dispatched to support American troops fighting the American Revolutionary War. The regiment was critical in the Siege of Savannah, capturing the city from the British.
I take pictures of statues and historical plaques. Here are two pictures of some of the plaques I've photographed.
When I see these plaques, I think of the people who would have first witnessed the event. I think of their lives, their families, the struggles they faced. I think of how would they felt might have felt witnessing the event.
I tease a story from there. I insert a sliver of historical truth (or possibility) and insert it into the past or some fantasy or contemporary or sci-world. I play with the idea. I run it through tumblers.
Yes, the chasseurs-volontaires from Saint-Domingue, the seigneurie of L’Orignal, and the opening of Canada's King's Road will have a place in upcoming stories. No, they won’t be incorporated into the same story. No, I don’t have a date as to when the stories involving these two events will be released.
Tumblers and history. That’s where I draw my inspiration.
Which tumbles influence your writing? Reach out to me on Twitter @reneegendron or on FB
Thank you, @LouSchlesinger, for the topic suggestion.