What Were You Thinking?

Readers and other writers frequently ask where story ideas come from. Orson Scott Card once said, “Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”


The idea for my current work in progress—the first draft is complete—came while I was researching another story. I was skimming through a book called The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West from 1840-1900 by Candy Moulton and the question hit me: Were there female attorneys during this time period?


That was several months ago and, even now, I can’t find the page in Candy’s book that stimulated the question. Maybe God needed for me to be distracted by something else so he could drop the idea into my heart.


At any rate, I did some more research and discovered there were female attorneys but they were few and far between, similar to the television show, Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman. And they faced the same prejudices and biases as Dr. Quinn.


So I sent an email to my agent, Barbara Scott, asking, “What do you think of a female attorney in the 1880s?” She quickly wrote back, telling me it was an excellent idea and to submit a proposal for a three-book series.


I was stunned. A three-book series? All I had was “a female attorney in the 1880s.”


After several unproductive starts—and more time in prayer—an idea began to gel and Emily Peyton came to life under my fingers. Kind of like Dr. Frankenstein but without the grave robbing and electric jolts. Sure could use Igor sometimes, though.


Originally, she was to be Kate but the name didn’t seem to fit. She told me she didn’t like and wanted to be called Emily. I researched her name and learned Emily means to achieve, to excel.


Yep. That’s her. The name fit perfectly.


The question, “What do you think of a female in the 1880s?” is now a 95,000 word novel called Emily’s Trial, book one in the Prairie Justice series.


Writers, be alert. You never know when a story idea is going to walk by. Blink, and you might miss it.


Question for you all: What’s the most surprising source you’ve had for a story idea?

14 Responses to What Were You Thinking?

  1. Kariss Lynch September 5, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    Love this post!!! I think the most surprising source I’ve had for a story idea was a drive to west Texas after visiting an art museum. I’ll say no more for now. 🙂

  2. Henry September 5, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    Thank you, Kariss. Now you have me intrigued.

  3. Heather September 5, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

    Great post, Henry! I can’t wait to read about Emily!

    I love that you mention unproductive starts and time spent in prayer. I find that if I dedicate myself to prayer and study time, my ideas flow faster and better. Just the other night, I was praying about something unrelated, not even thinking about my story. Then it hit me: here is what Jenny needs to say in such and such a scene. This was a reminder to me to submit myself, my story, and my writing to God.

  4. Tina Boone September 5, 2012 at 7:05 pm #

    Great post. Makes me scratch my head. I guess the story idea that took me by surprise was my niece’s procrastination at the dinner table. She did not want to finish her meal because she was “not hungry” anymore, but she promptly told me she could squeeze in a piece of pie. Weeks later, out came a picture book. (I did let her have the pie, but only after she finished what was on her plate.)

  5. Pamela Trawick September 5, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

    Henry, I got an idea from a tattoo.

  6. Henry September 5, 2012 at 9:23 pm #

    I can so see that happening. My daughter and her fiance have tattoos and I know there are some interesting stories under that ink.

  7. Henry September 5, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

    Kids are always a great source for story ideas because they’re so honest and fearless.

  8. Henry September 5, 2012 at 9:41 pm #

    I think it’s in submitting to him that the ideas and insights he has for our stories can bubble up to the top.

  9. Marney McNall September 6, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    I love how ideas pop into your mind while thinking of a wholly different subject. God is wonderful in that way (and all others, of course).

  10. Rachelle September 6, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

    Thanks for the insight! Great post, as always, Henry!

  11. Henry September 7, 2012 at 6:51 am #

    Thank you, Rachelle.

  12. Henry September 7, 2012 at 6:53 am #

    I agree, Marney. I love the way he takes care of us in the little things and the big things.

  13. Leigh Ann September 7, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    “Sure could use Igor sometimes though.” HAHA! Love it! Maybe critique partners add a bit of Igor. 🙂

    I can just see your face when Barbara asked for a proposal on a three book series. Way to work hard and get the job done with the book!

  14. Henry September 7, 2012 at 6:26 pm #

    Thanks, Leigh Ann.
    I appreciate you saying that.

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