brainstorming · Elle James · planning · writing advice

Where do stories come from?

img_1486When I tell people I’m a writer, they always ask, Where to you get all your ideas?  It’s like they think my mind is some magical place where ideas grow like mushrooms in a dark room. In a way they do. I’m sure it’s dark inside my head, but what I see in the world inspires the stories and they ruminate in my mind and grow into novellas, books, or short vignettes. I’ve been fortunate to travel lately. Last year we made a five-week driving trip to Alaska. Along the way we stopped in a tiny town far north in the Yukon Territory of Canada. I could imagine a woman running from a killer and assuming a new identity in that small town to escape recognition. In Homer, Alaska, my husband and I went halibut fishing off Homer Spit in a charter boat. The pretty young deckhand will certainly be in one of my books soon. She was sweet, efficient and full of romantic possibilities, even though she reeked of fish by the time she made it home each day. That’s right, everyone deserves a little love, even if they smell.

On our way back home, we passed through the dry, desert portion of Northwest dsc_0264Colorado and passed a lone cowboy herding a long line of sheep down they highway with four dogs as his companions. I could imagine a burned-out corporate CEO told to get out of the rat-race or die of a heart attack. He’s taken up ranching in a remote location of Colorado only to find sheep are dumb and escape mere fencing and cause almost as much stress as running a large corporation.

IMG_2682Later last year, I journeyed to Ireland, a land full of history and so many stories I couldn’t write the ideas down fast enough. A place called the Dark Hedges inspired images of a portal to another dimension or a witch living among mortals of the twelfth century. I could imagine someone walking down that road and it never ending.

At one place we toured old burial mounds from some ancient civilization. Nearby was a tree with ribbons tied to every branch. It was a fairy tree where people placed their wishes hoping they’d come true. Everything from love to children and cures from diseases were written on scraps of paper and tied with a ribbon to the tree. I could imagine a young couple,  longing for a child of their own tying their wish to the branches and the miracles of the magic gracing them with an orphaned child.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast that had been a castle used as a prison. Some of the guest bedrooms still had the latches on the outside of the doors. I could imagine a woman who’d inherited the castle from an aging aunt who came from America to run the B&B only to find love or set up a kinky vacation destination where mild torture titillated sexual desires (okay that was the kinkier side of my imaginings). Or she could have inherited the ghosts of the former inhabitants of the castle and have to work through clues to determine who killed them.

IMG_3343As you can see, sometimes all it takes is an interesting place, people-watching or a picture to inspire a new story. They’re everywhere if you’re looking for them. Try it sometime. Open a magazine and pick out a picture of someone and imagine who she is, why she’s walking across that beach alone or sitting with a man who obviously adores her. What is she thinking? Is she bored? Is she hoping he’ll propose, or is she counting the minutes until she can graciously ditch him to get home to her favorite soap opera? Or looking through a home and architecture magazine, pick a house that looks interesting and imagine the people who might live there. You don’t have to go on fabulous traveling vacations to come up with ideas. Sit in a restaurant and watch the people coming and going, from the customers to the wait staff to the cook in the kitchen. The world is full of stories! Let your imagination guide you!

I got my idea for the Cajun Magic Series from my many visits to Louisiana. I love the Cajun accent and the possibilities of voodoo in the backwaters of the bayou. I took an old fairytale of the Frog Prince and gave it a new spin in the bayou.


by Elle James

“By day a frog, by night a man, ‘til de next full moon…”

At first, lawyer and ladies’ man Craig Thibodeaux thought Madame LeBieu’s chant was a strange bayou joke. But the voodoo worked and Craig is spending his days as…well, a small green frog. Now he has only two weeks to find love, or his new froggy transformation becomes permanent.

When she receives the anonymous toxic water sample from Bayou Miste, research scientist Elaine Smith decides a trip to the bayou is the perfect excuse to escape the lab, and forget about her cheating ex-fiancé. Then she accidentally stumbles upon Craig’s oh-so-fine naked form, and her science-nerd brain is overrun with naughty thoughts about her new gorgeous night-time bayou guide.

But there’s more to Bayou Miste than voodoo curses and sexy late-night trysts. Dark secrets threaten the delicate ecosystem, and there are those who would do anything to keep those secrets hidden. Even murder…

5 thoughts on “Where do stories come from?

  1. It’s great that you see stories every where you go. So do I and I’m not a writer. Great post!

  2. Great post, Elle! So true. I’ve been spending a lot of time in Texas for the day job. Now my head is filled with cowboys, oil wildcatters, and vacqueros. Inspiration is everywhere. 🙂

  3. Interesting post, Elle! You and Mags are right. Inspiration is everywhere!

    When Vicki Lewis Thompson was visiting me in Florida, we took a walk on the beach. A couple who were not dressed for walking the beach passed us. Both were carrying their shoes. Long pants were rolled up. Sleeves were rolled us. She was carrying a purse. So I made Vicki tell me a story about his couple. Actually made for a fun walk for us!

  4. Love the post and it rings true stories are everywhere. The same thing has happened to me driving across the expanse of Missouri. It’s not the most exciting trip but when you start imagining ranch families in a bitter feud determined to destroy the other it gets better.

  5. I’m so glad you got this story out there!! I always liked this story when you gave us the blurb in the editing class. Can’ t wait to read it. Wooohooo!

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