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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Genesis of a Ghost Story

We all have different prompts that inspire our muses. For me, it's always something visual. An intriguing picture, an atmospheric landscape, a word or word combinations -- any of these can flip the switch on my creative outlet. We also each have very unique processes that nurture and structure those fledgling ideas to full blown stories.

As an example of how my mind works, here's a rundown of my literary gothic romance that will be launching later this year (title, date, book cover, book trailer, excerpts, playlist and pinterest board + giveaways forthcoming!) from conception to ready-to-write plot.

Several years back while I was on vacation in Kansas, my husband and I four-wheeled over to an old graveyard surrounded by a forest—one of those lushly macabre numbers with crumbling tombstones and intricately carved statues dating back to the 17 and 1800’s.



While walking among the debris we stumbled upon a locked fence. An isolated headstone sat inside the enclosure in the far right corner, covered with ivy to the point the epitaph couldn’t be read aside from two words: beloved son.

Seeing something like that … a tomb set off by itself in an enclosure that’s now overrun with weeds and vines … already the questions are stirring my imagination. Who was this person, this beloved son? And why did he merit such isolation?

Then I see something that spurs even deeper introspection. What is the significance of the other gate in back? The overgrown path that opens into the woods … where does it lead? Who once kept a vigil here, and why are they no longer keeping it?

BOOM: my idea was born. A grieving young lady (from the Victorian era, because naturally, the setting lends itself to something gothic), comes upon a wrought iron enclosure in a cemetery and sees not only a tomb, but a lone flower, proud and thriving in the midst of the decomposing wilderness. The young lady can't resist the unusual blossom because ... hmmm ... she has a love for colors and textures since she's a hat maker. So, resourceful and impetuous as all good heroines must be, she breaks off the padlock, digs up the flower, and takes it home, little realizing that it's tied to a man’s spirit—a ghost that happens to have no memory of ever dying. To help solve this dashing ghost’s death, my young heroine must return to the cemetery and follow the trail that leads into the woods to meet the keeper of the grave, her first step in unraveling the mystery.

Voila! From a scene rich with a history that I will never know is born a story that I can mold and shape into something of my very own.

I so love being a writer.

So I had my skeleton plot (no pun intended). I wrote it down, and filed it away to let the idea simmer. Next, I had to motivate and get to know my main characters:

When I first flesh out my characters, I want to have a sense of what they look like. I go online, look at sketches or headshots of people. I look for faces that hold some sort of aura, some expression or aspect that brings to mind characteristics of my character. Then I print them off and tack them to a corkboard in my office to help me visualize these people in the beginning when I’m first getting to know their voice. For me, it makes them come alive.


Juliet (heroine)


Hawk (aka ghost dude)

Now I have to give them personality and motivation. First we have a ghost. And he’s already an interesting fellow because:

A. Well … he’s a ghost. *hee*

B. He sings beautiful arias in a foreign language yet speaks in English.

C. He has amnesia; not only is he unaware of his death, but he has no memory at all of his life. So naturally, he’s going to want to remember = his motivation to reach out to this woman.

Next, I give my heroine something unique to her. Something that will be a challenge to her everyday life, but will bond her instantaneously to this spectral stranger. What say we make her deaf? She lost her hearing at age eight and hasn’t heard a sound for eleven years. Suddenly, she can hear this ghostly man. And ONLY him. No doubt, they are going to become fast friends, despite the fact that they can’t touch on any traditional level (sexual tension—it’s a great tool—USE IT). Her affection for him will motivate her to act against her introverted nature and try to find answers to his past.

Now for a twist. How about having another hero in this tale, who may or may not be good?  Any gothic novel worth its salt has a beautiful, dark, sensuous stranger with secrets, who will either be the heroine’s redemption or downfall. Yeah. Let’s give our ghost a rival.


Nicolas (the mysterious viscount / eccentric architect)

But this fellow needs to be flesh and blood. He needs to have some advantage to put him on equal ground with the man’s spirit who can sing and speak to the deaf heroine. So, the living man can touch her and communicate through romantic gestures. To up the stakes, I give him a link to the ghost’s life … and he’s harboring a secret that ties him to the ghost’s death.

At this point, I'm biting at the bit to get the story penned, so I sit down to the business of research and writing. Looking back on every book I've written so far, the genesis, structuralization, and organization all follow this same pattern.

How about you . . . what sparks that first idea? And afterwards, how do you build on / brainstorm that premise into a full-fledged plot?

52 comments:

  1. Cool pics! I think emotion usually sparks my ideas because I'm not visual and seeing things doesn't usually do anything for me. I always love hearing how you came up with this!

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  2. This was SO fun to read--sounds like a completely fantastic story. I haven't really found a pattern to my inspirations--I just get a kernel of an idea and let it churn until something coherent emerges.

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  3. Dude, that ghost guy is HOT!

    Also, I love this! (even though I did already read it on your livejournal bloggety blog. I love it, AGAIN!)

    I also like hearing how you come up with an idea, and then turn it into something with structure. Very interesting, my friend.

    That's a good idea to look up pictures of what your characters look like. I'm going to have to give that a shot!

    :)

    P.S. Love your guts!

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  4. Loved hearing how your story evolved - awesome characterization - and not bad looking either (hehe).

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  5. You must be a visual learner. I am, too. If I can't see it with my eyes I can't see it in my head, which means I can't write it. Great pics!

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  6. I've done the picture search on the internet, too! Only, I couldn't find the exact face. LOVE LOVE LOVE your character pics, though.

    I usually think of a story at night, right before I fall asleep. If the story is strong enough in the morning, I'll mull it over, or write a passage in character.

    Fun post, Anita. :)

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  7. Holy cow that book sounds good! I love hearing how other peoples stories come to fruition...but wow, what a story. I think you made my day and inspired me:)

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  8. I can totally see how seeing something visual can blossom into a story, definitely. A visual is like you say, a prompt, which triggers are imagination to make it bigger, add certain elements, consider things we wouldn't have already thought about. I like it when I write and get various different visuals. In many ways, they often add sub-plot to a story.

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  9. Lady, I want to read this story NOW! *throws tantrum here* Pretty, pretty please?

    That's so rockin', my friend. I love ideas that come from real places or even just pictures. The visual really helps set the mood or atmosphere of the story. Thanks for sharing this. You are such a talented writer, and I dig all the pics.

    Ok, can I read your ghost story now? hehehe...

    <3

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  10. I agree with Cherie... I wanna read! When's this thing gonna be available for mass consumption? Get moving! :)

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  11. Yeah, so when does this book get published? When do I get to read it? This sounds amazing. And after seeing that cemetery and reading your description of it, how could you NOT find a story in that?

    So, so awesome. I love ghost stories.

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  12. Hi Jessie! I'm so glad you're not tired of hearing this story. LOL. Considering you've read it, that means a lot! Hee

    Thanks Sarah! It's one of my favorite MSS to date, and I can't WAIT for Jenny to start shopping it! I think a lot of writers just have a kernel idea and it blossoms on its own into a story. I just happen to be a weirdo. LOL

    Hey there, Mare! I know, right. I was totally crushing on the ghost throughout the book. But I have to say, when the other guy enters the picture, I kind of fell for him, too. Dark, mysterious, and troubled? VERY hard to resist. Heh. Oh, and you mean my guts are showing?? I hate when that happens. LOL

    Lady Gwen~ Hello! Thank you! And yes, I thought they were rather scrumptious myself. YUM.

    That's a great point, EMily! And I believe I am a visual learner. Maybe that's why Geometry came so hard for me. I could never "picture" those formulas and theorums. Went right over my head. Blick.

    Hi Mary! Thanks! That's so cool the way you come up w/story ideas. I love that!

    Hey there Deana! Thanks, girl. And Wow! I'm thrilled to have inspired someone who's always inspiration to me! :)

    Hello, DU! Great points, all. And funny you say that about subplots. One of these days I'll have to share a picture that formed a subplot for this very book. It was pretty gruesome, but it built an amazing backstory for one of my heroes.

    Hi there Sparkly Cherie! Hee. I would LOVE for you to read it! Jenny is going to shop it as soon as SPLINTERED sells, and we're shopping that one now. So keep those fingers crossed for me!!

    Hey there Carissa & Liesl!! See my answer to Cherie above! Heehee. I love ghost stories, too, and wanted to put a spin on it that I'd never seen done. Here's hoping you'll all get to read it very soon!

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  13. Wow. I agree with everyone else... I want to read this book NOW! AND I also want to tack the photos of these delicious gentlemen up to my cork board--just because they're pretty. :)

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  14. Where do you get those pictures? (and the book sounds great by the way!) I do the picture thing too but mostly end up with actors because I don't know where else to look.

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  15. This was a very interesting read. It always fascinates me, the way other writers use their inspirations to create art.

    And this story sounds so cool!!
    Isn't the mind a marvelous machine?

    Thanks for stopping by my place, Anita. A pleasure meeting you!

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  16. Fantastic! I'm the same way - people ask me, "How do you get your ideas?" And the answer is, from really, really random things. I wrote a whole novel off an oddball eBay listing I saw, and... you know how it goes. Sparks flew.

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  17. Hi there Lisa Anne. :) Thanks for your kindness! And yeah, those guys are VERY hawt! Feel free to print them off and enjoy. :) Great to see you again, BTW!

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  18. Hey Nina. So cool to meet someone who has a similar process. :)

    I can't remember where I got my pics for this particular story because it was several years ago. But, I usually just look for model's head shots on google images. You have to be a little careful sifting through, but there are several websites that have tasteful collections of pics.

    Here is a HUGE repository of women’s headshots that I've used more recently. It's linked to the A models; just keep clicking the letters on the upper bar to change it the next set. http://www.supermodels.nl/Pages/Headshots.aspx?sl=a

    And here’s a link with some guys: http://www.iballer.com/malecelebs/index.htm . I think it’s mainly celebrities, but still, you might find a few unknowns there.

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  19. Welcome, Bryce! So nice to meet you, too. Yes, I also love to pick apart the inner workings of other writer's minds. :) You have a great blog, BTW!

    Hey there Mindy. :) Great to see you! WOW on the ebay story. That's got to be one of the most unique lightbulb moments I've ever heard of! Cool.

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  20. terrific post Anita. I really love reading how other writers' brains work.

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  21. Haha. Thanks David. Sadly, sometimes watching my brain work is like watching a paddle boat try to tackle Niagara Falls. ;)

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  22. When I figure out my process I'll let you know! Loved hearing how you come up with and embellish on an idea. And who can resist some good gothic atmosphere or a ghost story? No-one, exactly. The story about the grave set aside from the others definitely set me off thinking.

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  23. WOW! I love that cemetery. You can tell that it's full of history and atmosphere. I hope you are finishing this story or did I read wrong? ;> This is definitely something I'd read. You have the makings of a beautiful story.

    I'll tell where I got my story from. I read about a town that went under water when the Mississippi River flooded. Years later, the river went down and the town was still there. All the buildings, the cemetery. It sort of creeped me out and I could never get the image out of my mind. That's how a story begins.

    Go girl. Write that story.

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  24. Hey there Sophia! LOL. Not everyone has a process. Some writers just write. I think Stephen King is that way actually. And look how amazingly successful he is!

    Hi Ms. Marigold. :) I've actually already written it, and it's next to go on sub to pubs after Agent Goddess and I sell SPLINTERED. So I'm keeping my fingers crossed it will be soon! I love the way your story started. WOW. That's amazing. I'm dying to read it now! :)

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  25. Found you from Sophia's blog - wow what a story! I am hooked already! My process is quite a bit different. Many of my ideas are old, going back to childhood... and I have to tease them out by writing meandering first drafts before the story finally comes together. It's fun to see how other people's stories come together.

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  26. Awesome picture no wonder it gave you an idea for a story! I've definitely used the hunched french woman who collects snails down the lane behind my house in my latest WIP and funnily enough I haven't seen her since. It's probably seasonal (too hot for snails) but I like to think it's because she jumped into my story lol.

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  27. OK, I'n sold. I want to read it now and I don't usually like all that paranormal stuff! :)

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  28. I am so late to this party...d'oh! But what a cool, interesting, and spookily story you have concocted. I also like seeing the evolution of a story within another writer's imaginative brain. The part about the petals of the flower is brill.

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  29. Hi Margo! :) I've visited your blog too (led there by Sophia, as well), in fact, I've been following you for a while, so it's awesome to have you drop by! That's so cool about your ideas being ingrained from childhood. Your stories must be very true emotionally because of that.

    Hello Catherine! You're right about the graveyard, but I have to admit that's not my picture. I couldn't find which file the ones my hubbie took were in, so I just went online and found one that looked closest to the graveyard we visited. I'm bummed, because I actually have a pic somewhere of the fenced in grave that would've been fun to share. LOL about the French woman and the snails! Hee

    Hey there Jane. :) Well, let's hope you get to soon! Thanks, Lady!

    Hi my pony girl! Thanks for your lovely words. I agree, it's fun to hear how other authors build on an idea.

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  30. I love this post as much as the first time I read it. Sharing it with my FB and Twitter friends.

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  31. Great post. Am now a follower. Will repost.

    Dana@ http://Danasyabookpile.blogspot.com/

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  32. Hi Jenny, my diva sistah! Thank you so much for giving me a promo boost. You're the best! <3

    Nice to meet you Dana! I'm following you as well! Thanks for stopping in. :)

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  33. Sneaking back to say I love that two of my favourite blog peeps (hi Anita, hi Margo!) are talking to each other. And now I slink into the shadows like a creepy creeper. . .

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  34. That sounds like an awesome story!! I love your idea of getting inspiration from a unique surrounding, and finding character inspiration through photos. I may have to do that because I can imagine what my characters look like, but it would help to have an actual picture. Also to help distance them from me and that they are unique, individual people.

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  35. Heehee, Sophia. You're not a creepy creeper. You just keep really good company, is all. ;)

    Hi Keriann! So nice to see you out and about. Thanks for the sweet words. And feel free to use the links I gave Nina Badzin above. They're great places to find pics. :)

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  36. OMG! I'm hooked already!
    ~Erin

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  37. Thank you Erin! I appreciate you dropping in! :)

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  38. Wow. Thanks for putting this link in a recent interview. I want to read this!! I am such a ghosty person.

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    Replies
    1. What other tasty things are you hiding in this blog? O.o

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    2. Haha! You need to dig around and find out. ;)

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  39. O.O it sounds amazing! I want to read it!

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    1. I hope you get to read it soon! *fingers crossed it sells*

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  40. this has made me even more excited for Roseblood!! Gothic Victorian settings are a favorite of mine! I'm no good with writing stories, at least not how I used to be. I do write songs though & it's normally visuals that help spark an idea for me! Sometimes I get inspiration from images, my own memories & even my favorite books (such as Splintered). I have been working on a song inspired by Splintered for some time now too lol.

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    1. Aw, thanks Shelby! But this is another book coming out before RoseBlood; you know that, right? And I want to hear that Splintered inspired song when you're done! <3

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  41. Hey Faerie Princess! Saw this on Twitter and had to come take a peek. LOVE this. Just. Love this whole post. Want to read this new MS ASAP! If it doesn't sell, self pub this sucker, but it will sell, because it's just that awesome. This premise is to DIE for..lol..;) Also, you are my soul mate for loving ghosts. You know I'm partial to my Jaston...And your Hawk is Hawt! :D

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    1. Yay! Thanks Red! And I still need to read your ghost story, don't I? I'm totally indie pubbing this book, details forthcoming! :)

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  42. Oh, wow! Not only does the story sound amazing, but your process broken down is awesome! I've not written anything more than short stories, and even then it's been a while since I've done that. I love hearing about writers' processes, though. It's so amazing to me how one little thing, place, or person can inspire an entire story. So excited to read more from you! :)

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    1. Thanks so much for the comment! I love sharing my writing process, and it's always interesting seeing how other writers come up with stories. Our minds all work so differently, you know?

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    2. That they do! And you're indie pubbing this one? So exciting! Hope RoseBlood edits are going well. We are all anxiously awaiting more from you. Good thing it's always worth the wait.

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  43. Sounds amazing! With all the fun I had with the custom hats for our Halloween costumes representing Morpheus and Alyssa, I can only imagine the fun that I can have with one made for this character! A hat maker! I love it! ♡

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  44. So great getting a peek at your creative process. Thanks for sharing and I'm sure this book will be amazing.

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