Where Do Plot Ideas Come From?

There’s a joke among fiction writers about people who offer, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea for a book. You write it and then we’ll split the profits.”

There are a few problems with this, but one of the most obvious is that the idea is the easiest bit. It’s the writing that actually takes time. Ideas are everywhere.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a walk and look for plot ideas. How about last week’s Country Living Fair in Columbus, Ohio?

The Country Living Fair is a big antiques, kitsch, craft, retro, and faux-country show sponsored by Country Living magazine. Every year a group of us makes an overnight trip as a combination slumber party/shopping trip. Some of us do more shopping than others (this year I came home with only some soap and a candle), but it’s really all about the social exchange and the thrill of exploring the booths. (If this were my behavior blog, I’d talk about Panksepp’s SEEKING system and exploratory reinforcement, but we’ll move on to the fiction ideas.)

First booth offers a stack of vintage books. Flipping through one, we discover an old postcard. The neat handwriting and stamp cancellation verify its age. So what do we have?

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“Dear Miss Parker, The second selection on World Famous Music on Oct 26 was the Piano Concerto in C Major KH67 by Mozart played by Artur Schnabel and the London Symphony Orchestra. Yours truly, WOSU.”

Sent Nov 3, 1943.

/rubbing palms together with glee/ In case you haven’t a bone of espionage in you, this is a wartime secret message and Miss Parker has just learned something important about London and an agent called Schnabel — or perhaps the code is more complicated, and the Victor Record Catalog is the easily accessible, never-suspected codebook.

Want more? Flip a few pages in that same book.

IMG_20130913_104301_242A singer who changes her name because of an unpleasant association with a notorious historic figure? What a fun character trait that could be. (Fun fact: the Borgias really were Spanish, not Italian, and named de Borja before the Italian spelling. She’s even closer than they suggest. What plot twist could you do with that?) Or perhaps a character was named for someone once honored who has since become infamous…?

If you don’t want your ideas to be quite so directly inspired, you could just find the unusual or macabre and let your mind run with it….

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This is the kind of thing which sets the talented and twisted Ben Asaykwee to humming. He’s the playwright and composer responsible for such shows as Cabaret Poe (a personal favorite and returning this fall) and The Fowl (a all-children parody of Hitchcock’s The Birds) and more.

Cabaret Poe

Cabaret Poe

Remember “Einzug der Gladiatoren, Op.68,” or “Entrance of the Gladiators”? You probably know it as “that circus music;” I had to do some research to identify it. It sounds like this. Ben’s Zirkus Grimm (a very Germanic circus of traditional fairy tales told un-traditionally) set raconteur lyrics to the music:

One thing that all stories have in common
They all have to have a bit of drama

Okay, I saw the show only once and the soundtrack isn’t available, so I might be remembering a bit wrong. Perhaps Ben will correct me. But it is true; stories need drama. Stories are drama. And drama is all around us. This is why we need stories. And it’s why nearly everything can become a story.

So go ahead and eavesdrop on the arguing couple at the next table. Imagine a new ending for that downer of a movie. Pretend you actually believe the ridiculous story your kid told you about how it was an earthquake which broke the mirror but it didn’t shake anything downstairs. Remember, originality is the art of concealing your sources!


Cabaret Poe is a macabre musical revue of the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Oh, and it’s hilarious, too. So if you’ll be near Indy this October, you should grab tickets here.

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