Sunday, August 17, 2014

Hunting and Gathering

The question I get asked most often as a writer is “Where do you get your ideas?”
 When answering it, I often  talk about an individual work; a funny few scenes in a failed early novel of mine, about a young woman and her grandmother at a funeral, became the base upon which Confessions of the Sausage Queen was built. The idea of someone seeking out a new identity and using the name Parker Bench because he’d recently sat on a park bench became the first and earliest part of   The P-town Queen.  Listening to a song by Tom Petty gave me the first spark of an idea that led to the Sweet Lenora series.

These little odds and ends, though, are just the beginning. Novels are long stories and each of them is a mosaic of sorts, a hodgepodge of ideas and impressions from my life. Many things come into the mix, things I hear (or overhear), stories from the news, lines from poems, a song,  a picture, a place I've visited, a memory, all come together to make up the worlds and characters I create.

Often as not, I actively seek these things out. Hunting and gathering is the first step in my writing process. It is also, for me at least, the easiest part of the writing process. Ideas, thoughts, and impressions are everywhere, all I need to do is take note of them. I keep a file on my computer labeled ‘ideas’. In it, I collect my findings—a quirky story I heard, some interesting tidbit that makes an opening line, a few pictures. Some are very concrete—I recently heard a true story about a man, wonderfully named Funzy, who won’t donate blood to the Red Cross because he has a gripe against the organization. In my computer is this single line “Funzy DelGato had a long standing grudge against the Red Cross.” It will make a great opener one day, though the story will have nothing to do with the real Funzy (whose last name isn’t actually DelGato). Some of my scraps are more criptic. “Joni Mitchell’s Conversation and Unhitched”  for example, which refers to an old Joni Mitchell song I heard recently and a new column in the New York Times about breakups and divorces. Together, these two things are brewing into a romantic comedy that I hope to write in the not too distant future.
None of these little snippets, in and of themselves, tell a story. They are the ingredients, the bits and pieces of the mosaic, that go into story making.

Do you hunt and gather? What sorts of things do you collect for story making?

'til next time


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

I too collect ideas and great lines. I like your Funzy reference. If you write me directly; I'll send you the story, a saga from WWI that I collected in a memoir.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, Ute. I also collect and hunt for ideas. No novel of mine can be said to sprout from one source. That's why it's always hard for me to answer the question "Where do you get your ideas?" Because the real answer is "Everywhere." From books of other authors, from current news, from pictures. Like you, I also have a folder Ideas and I also have a file of interesting names. Names are important for our characters, aren't they? Sometimes a story idea comes from a name.

Big Mike said...

Get'um from dreams, current events, things that happen in day to day life, and stars that far from the heavens. One that will be released next July when ya read the Story behind the story will knock ya off your feet.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Ute Carbone said...

The wide net we cast in gathering ideas always amazes me!
Sounds fascinating, Julie
Thanks Olga. You're right it's a hard question to answer because the real answer is 'all over the place'
I'm intrigued Mike!

Deborah said...

Love the post, Ute! Just goes to show that we are truly the sum of our experiences. I'm intrigued to see if/when you will do something with Funzy's phobia.

Meantime, back to work on my current novel for me!!!

Cheers, Deb