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I write novels for teens and adults. Visit me here & on my website http://www.jenniferarcher.net

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Idea Jar

The men in my husband's family have a joke that their wives all have "job jars" for them. In these jars, we supposedly keep scraps of paper with household jobs written on them, and on their days off, they're required to pull out a scrap and complete the task. (Now there's an idea, huh?)

One of the questions I'm asked most when people learn I'm a writer is "where do you get your ideas?" When people ask me that, I'm a little baffled that they don't see ideas everywhere, like I do. Life is like that job jar only, in addition to tasks, it's filled with ideas, too. Usually, I'll see something or read something or hear something that sprouts the question-- what if....? An idea blooms then grows, often in a story direction I never expected.

The idea for my first published novel Body and Soul sprouted while I was sitting in line at a bank drive-up window. My children were small then and they were in the back seat irritating one another. I'd had a long day and their argument was wearing my nerves thin. I looked at the car beside me in the next lane -- a red Volkswagon with a young, pretty 20-something girl inside. Her window was down, music blared from her radio, and she be-bopped to the beat. She looked carefree, relaxed, everything I wasn't at the moment. I thought, "Right now, I wish I had your life." Then, "what if two women like us switched places, right here, right now?" Voila! The idea for Body and Soul bloomed.

The idea for Sandwiched grew out of a lunch date with two girlfriends. Over salads and tea, we talked about the fact that our parents were getting older and might soon need more of our time, while our teenagers were getting older and wanting less of our time. We were, in a sense, sandwiched between the needs of these important people in our lives.

I wrote The Me I Used To Be after reading a magazine article about a woman who got pregnant at the age of sixteen while at Woodstock. She gave her baby son up for adoption and he found her more than 30 years later. "What if that child had been a daughter?" I wondered. "And what if the daughter died before they ever had the chance to reconnect? What if a grandchild found the birth mother instead?"

My Perfectly Imperfect Life began at a writing workshop. The teacher had us take out pens and paper. "A character finds something unexpected in his or her significant other's closet," she said. "Write about it. You have one minute." I put the pen to paper, started writing, and here's what emerged...It was black, lacy, a size 42 DD. She wore a B cup...barely. As the woman stared at the big black bra hidden in the corner of her husband's closet, she couldn't help wondering -- did it belong to another woman...or to him? The paragraph was rough, but when I read it aloud to the group, everyone laughed. I thought I might be on to something.

If you're a writer searching for a story, pay attention to the life you're living, the world around you, the common things you might take for granted. Let your imagination wander. Though it's true that sometimes I really don't know where a story came from, more often than not the idea arises from an every day occurence, a minor incident that seems so mundane it's easy to let it slip by unnoticed.


Karen said...

Great suggestions, Jenny. I find people watching to be my greatest source for stories, character traits, and fashion. And when those same people open their mouths to talk, dialogue styles emerge along with an abundance of story ideas. The mall, the grocery store, theme parts - the possibilities are endless.

Jennifer said...

I agree, Karen. People watching is great. My husband says I always eavesdrop on the next table at restaurants, too!