People often ask where I get my story ideas from. The most common way I get story ideas is from an image that pops into my mind. Many times, I can’t remember what I was doing, reading, or thinking when the idea came to me. I gave up asking myself, “Where did that come from?” If it sticks in my mind or comes back, I’ve learned to trust that God is behind it.
One story I’m working on right now, Mr. Latham’s Lincoln, is with a prospective agent. The idea came to me over ten years ago. On this one, I remember what I was doing when I received it. I was lying in bed about to go to sleep.
In the image I saw a man around sixty years old. He was fumbling to put his cowboy boots on. Then he was fumbling to connect the lights on his flatbed trailer to his truck. He wasn’t drunk or under the influence of anything. He was flustered and in a hurry. It was late at night, after midnight. Don’t ask me how I knew this. I just did.
The next night, it was the same image. By that time in my writing career, I’d learned enough to know I had to go further with it. The right brain creative side—the boys in the basement, as James Scott Bell calls them—came alive.
The key question I asked was “Why is he doing that?”
And the answer: It’s the middle of the night and he—his name is Charlie—receives a phone call from his adult son, Jake. The son’s wife’s car was found off the interstate in Oklahoma City. And they cannot find his wife. Charlie is hurrying to get there to help his son and is bringing a flatbed trailer to carry the car back.
More questions told me more about Charlie. He’s a horse rancher in the North Texas town of Justin. He loves Jake, his only child, and his daughter-in-law, Amy. A strong Christian, he is a rock in his church. His wife left him and Jake 30 years earlier for another man. Charlie never remarried and has avoided serious relationships with a woman like the proverbial plague.
From there, it was, as Faulkner suggests, following Charlie around. What happens? What actions does he take? Why does he do one thing and not the other? It’s getting to know Charlie on his terms, on letting him show me who he is through what he thinks, says, and does.
More questions followed:
What does he want? What is his goal? He wants to find Amy and restore her to the family.
What obstacles prevent him from achieving his goal? They find evidence Amy planned her disappearance. Why? What is she running from? Or running to? How does he overcome them?
And what does he do about the female police detective who walks into his life and touches his heart where it hasn’t been touched in years?
And the big question: Where is God in all this?
Charlie answers these and other questions over the course of the story. This is where writing by the seat of my pants is fun. Charlie is free to go where his heart and the story lead him.
How about you? What inspires your stories?