The “Secret” to Inspiration

Last month, another writer asked me where I get my ideas. I was dancing with him at the time, learning a new step. Since I can’t dance and talk simultaneously, I answered lamely, “My head.”

But the truth is ideas are a dime a dozen. They’re all around me. In the news, in conversations with friends and family, in books, in dreams and fantasies. My struggle is finding the characters to populate those ideas—characters who will hold my attention for the six to twelve months it takes me to write their story. Characters I love and hate. Doesn’t matter what the idea is, I have to feel passionately about the people who will make that idea come alive.

Sharing Hailey CoverMy first novel, Sharing Hailey, began as a way to live out my frustrated high school fantasy of having an older brother so I could date his friends. While putting fantasy to paper, I figured why not indulge in two hot friends and a happily-ever-after with both men who, while they weren’t perfect, complemented each other and Hailey perfectly. But as Hailey was on her way to a wonderful Hawaiian vacation with these two men, she was jumpy, nervous. It didn’t make sense. So we had a little heart to heart. I was shocked to learn that this beautiful, intelligent, successful business woman was the victim of an abusive boyfriend. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’d researched intimate partner violence (IPV) in an attempt to support friends who were dealing with it, so I knew how common it was. My frustration with all aspects of IPV spilled over into the novel. The fact that Hailey secretly had been dealing with that kind of violence made me even more determined to see her story through to a happy end.

While writing Sharing Hailey, I began to fall in love with one of the secondary characters, Landon—a shy science geek. I’m a sucker for the type, so I was determined to give him his HEA. I had the perfect woman picked out for him, but he resisted all my attempts to play matchmaker. When I asked him why, he said softly, “I’m in love with someone else.” The story he told me was so much more poignant than the one I had planned. Because of the secrets he had to overcome and the difficulties he faced, his journey was emotional for me. In fact, I found myself glossing over some wrenching scenes because of the pain. But my wonderful editor, Rhonda Helms, made me confront that pain, and the book, Waiting for Ty, is better for it.

Meredith, another secondary character from that first book, resonated with readers, and they asked for her story. I’m working on it now, but getting her to explain why she was so down on love was difficult. She’s got everything going for her, so you’d expect the happily-ever-after to come easily. But Meredith has been hiding a painful secret. And perhaps that’s why she caught readers’ interest. She isn’t at all what she seems on the outside.

For me, maybe that’s the key to inspiration—characters with heartrending secrets.

So here’s my question for you. What keeps you reading to “The End”? Great characters? Great ideas? A great plot? Something else?

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.

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