June 2021 Featured Article
During the release party for Providence, book 3 in my Apple Hill Series, a young girl asked me where I get my story ideas. I thought it was an intelligent question coming from a nine-year-old, especially since it had been previously asked by several people much older than her. And yet, it still stumped me, because there is no pat answer.
If you ask ten fiction authors how their stories are birthed, you’d most likely get ten different answers. In fact, each of the four novels and three novellas I’ve completed were conceived in varying ways. I should say five novels, because the first still sits in a binder waiting for me to revisit it. That one was written in the hours I sat in my daughter’s hospital room and the following months while I stayed with her during her recovery from traumatic brain injury—which was the inspiration for Illusions, book 2 in the series.
Illusions wasn’t the first novel of mine to be inspired by actual events. Providence, book 3 was also conceived from tragedy—my brother’s suicide. It was actually the first written in the series, but it took three rewrites before I was satisfied that it demonstrated the love and grace of Jesus Christ. Before that, it was veiled in doom and gloom. The first in the series, Surrendered (book 1) was birthed from a side character in Providence who never made the cut in rewrites. Tess O’Shay stuck with me, though, and demanded a story of her own.
A story, though, is not only the plot woven throughout, but the characters who drive it. You may have heard that some novels are plot-driven, and some are character-driven. A plot-driven novel is one where the characters don’t change much. Detective novels often fall into this category, especially if it’s a series. My husband and I have listened to almost every audiobook in the Andy Carpenter series by David Rosenfeldt during road trips. Andy Carpenter hasn’t changed one iota in the twenty-plus books, because the focus is the criminal cases he investigates as a lawyer. That’s an example of plot driven. And although we enjoy the stories, if it wasn’t for the exemplary audio voice of Grover Garland, we probably wouldn’t have stuck with them. Another series I’ve enjoyed is The Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series by Sue Grafton. Kinsey doesn’t change, but her cases keep me on the edge of my seat.
Often a character-driven story is just what it sounds like—a story that’s mostly focused on the characters. I’m not a fan of these types of novels, so I won’t give an example. Although I enjoy plot-driven stories, I prefer those that have enough of both plot and character to keep it interesting. I will admit, it’s the plot with which I struggle the most. I don’t think I’m very creative, and I believe that’s by divine design. The more I depend on God, the more glory goes to Him. I cannot write anything worth reading without the true Creator.
The book I just submitted to my publisher began with the main character’s career. Night Songs, book 1 in the upcoming Bedford County Series, started with my love for interior design and the vintage stores that are so popular in Tennessee. My husband and I moved here three years ago after living our entire lives in Northern California, so I wanted the new series to reflect this new chapter in my life. Once I had the career in mind, I then delved into the personality of the main character.
I love studying personalities, which is probably why I majored in Behavioral Science (or psychology) in college. As an aspiring teacher, I thought understanding how people think would help me with my students, which it did. Little did I know God was preparing me for a different career, as well. The enneagram is my go-to personality indicator, and since I write from a Christian worldview, I prefer using The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert. But as a psychology major, I cannot discount the Myers-Briggs study of the sixteen personality types. My favorite book for this is Type Talk: The 16 Personality Types That Determine How We Live, Love, and Work.
My upcoming Apple Hill Christmas novella, Wish Upon a Star, is based on two characters from Providence—Elaina Hensley (a nurse) and Ryan Brooks (a financial analyst). The first thing I did was research the personality types that typically gravitate toward these two careers. I’d like to say I stay true to form throughout the story, but sometimes the characters go off-book. They do and say things I hadn’t planned, which I believe is inspired by the Holy Spirit, so I don’t mess with it.
My WIP (Work in Progress) was inspired by an incident I’d heard about from a friend. I don’t know the particulars, which is just as well. The farther I can stray from the reality, the better I can keep the characters and plot fluid. I’d already decided it would involve horses in some way—maybe even a horse therapy ranch. I’m still working on that. The first step is to get up close and personal with the equine family. That will be easy enough since Bedford County is a horse haven.
There is no end to story ideas or character types if we keep our eyes and ears open. I’ve never used an actual person or event in my books. A wise mentor once told me that it’s almost impossible to fictionalize a true story (or person) because we’re too close to it (or them) to stray from the facts. We struggle with truth over fiction. You can be sure, though, that every story I write will be filled with the love and grace of Jesus Christ. Because without that, what’s the point?