Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Finding Story Ideas in the Strangest Places

by  Pat Stoltey

Writers need to keep their eyes open and their wits about them at all times, but especially while traveling.

A long day of flights and layovers creates opportunities to overhear interesting dialogue.  Two hours in a large airport allows time to observe hundreds, maybe thousands, of travelers. Even a short stay in a small airport inevitably leads to an interesting conversation with a fellow passenger.

Since I'm heading out Monday for my third trip in six weeks, I'm especially tuned in to the joys of people watching. I pay attention to quirky habits and unusual patterns of speech, shamelessly eavesdrop on cell phone conversations, and watch how young stressed parents deal with babies and whiny kids and strollers and each other.

Important notes for mystery writers:

1. Annoying (and annoyed) people make excellent victims in crime fiction.

2. Even a lonely hotel room, especially one with no windows, can provide ideas for setting.

3. Models for quirky secondary characters are everywhere, especially O'Hare Airport.

 From my travels the last few weeks, I've made these decisions:

1. The first victim in my next mystery will be a waiter, and I won't say any more about that.

2. I will have a young male suspect who wears his pants with the crotch hanging almost to his knees.

3. One character will rub her nose and sniff a lot, and the protagonist will wonder whether she has allergies...or whether she's a drug addict.

4. And something will happen in a creepy hotel room while the protagonist is trying to update her blog.

And if you see a little gray-haired lady scribbling in a notebook at a gate in O'Hare Airport toward the end of next week, check her out. It might be me.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

The fourth one is creepy!

Patricia Stoltey said...

I thought so too, Alex. The ideas I had from that one would qualify as horror instead of mystery.

Anonymous said...

Ooo shivers on that fourth one.

My last trip back east provided me with a trio of golfers going to AZ with custom made cases and clubs, and a man talking loudly about his private box seats and family tradition at the Derby in Churchill Downs. Yes, mint julips entered the conversation.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Hi Julie -- I always thought eavesdropping was a bad thing until I started writing. Now I'm shameless. Sometimes it's hard not to laugh out loud at some of the conversations I hear.

Dean K Miller said...

Here's why I think this works so well: We writers are, of course, working to produce an original story, something new. But the draw for the readers is that they recognize the characters in our stories are similar to people they know, or have seen. Now they are personally attached to our original story.

The hanging-crotched pants suspect...I already know who that is in my life...and he'd be a perfect suspect to be found in a creepy hotel room.

Looking foward to this tale.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Dean, just so you know, that suspect is not a vampire...