by Jennifer Archer
The men in my husband's family joke that their wives all have
"job jars" for them. In these jars, we supposedly keep scraps of paper
with household chores written on them. When the men have time to spare, they're
required to pull out a scrap and complete the task. (Now there's an
One of the questions I'm asked most when people learn
I'm a writer is "where do you get your ideas?" I'm always a little baffled that they don't see ideas everywhere, like I do.
Life is like that job jar except, in addition to tasks, it's also filled with
ideas. Usually I'll see something or read something or hear
something that sprouts the question-- what if....? An idea blooms then
grows, often in a story direction I never expected.
The idea for my first published novel for adults BODY AND SOUL
sprouted while I was sitting in line at a bank drive-up window. My
children were small then and they were in the back seat irritating one
another. I'd had a long day and their argument was wearing my nerves
thin. I looked at the car beside me in the next lane -- a red Volkswagon
with a young, pretty 20-something girl inside. Her window was down,
music blared from her radio, and she be-bopped to the beat. She looked
carefree, relaxed, everything I wasn't at the moment. I thought, Right
now, I wish I had your life. Then: What if two women like us switched
places, right here, right now? Voila! The idea for BODY AND SOUL bloomed.
The idea for another one of my books for adults, SANDWICHED,
grew out of a lunch date with two girlfriends. Over salads and tea, we
talked about the fact that our parents were getting older and might soon
need more of our time, while our teenagers were getting older and
wanting less of our time. We were, in a sense, sandwiched between the
needs of these important people in our lives.
I wrote THE ME I USED TO BE
after reading a magazine article about a woman who got pregnant at the
age of sixteen while at Woodstock. She gave her baby son up for adoption
and he found her more than 30 years later. What if that child had been
a daughter? I wondered. And what if the daughter died before they
ever had the chance to reconnect? What if a grandchild found the birth
MY PERFECTLY IMPERFECT LIFE began at a
writing workshop. The teacher had us take out pens and paper. "A
character finds something unexpected in his or her significant other's
closet," she said. "Write about it. You have one minute." I put the pen
to paper, started writing, and here's what emerged...It was black,
lacy, a size 42 DD. She wore a B cup...barely. As the woman stared at
the big black bra hidden in the corner of her husband's closet, she
couldn't help wondering -- did it belong to another woman...or to him? The paragraph was rough, but when I read it aloud to the group, everyone laughed. I thought I might be on to something.
then there are the book ideas that sneak up out of nowhere and surprise
you. These can't be easily explained. My debut novel for teens, THROUGH HER EYES,
is one such story. I'm not really sure where the idea came from. I went
to sleep one night thinking that I'd like to write a novel for a teen
audience, and the next morning I awoke with the bare bones idea. I see
fragments of my own life in the story -- like the protagonist, Tansy
Piper, I moved around a lot when I was growing up. (something like 24
times, actually!) And the creepy house Tansy lives in after she moves to
Texas resembles one we pass by when my husband and I drive to our cabin
in Colorado. Old photographs play a big part in the plot, and I've
always loved old pictures and find myself wishing I could step into one
and experience life back then. I incorporated that wish into the book,
as well. But overall, I have no idea what inspired the rest of the
story; it simply emerged as I wrote.
you're a writer searching for a story, pay attention to the life you're
living, the world around you, the common things you might take for
granted. Let your imagination wander. Though it's true that sometimes I
really don't know where a story came from, more often than not the idea
arises from an every day occurrence, a minor incident that seems so
mundane it's easy to let it slip by unnoticed.
Writers, what has inspired your story ideas for the books you've written?