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Where We Get Story Ideas

In previous posts I’ve shared here about how reading newspaper articles has triggered a story idea. This happens a lot for my mystery and suspense novels, especially, One Small Victory and Boxes for Beds, and even some of the story lines for the Seasons Mystery Series.

Many writers, if not most, get story ideas from just such experiences, especially those who write mysteries. If we run across an article about an unsolved crime, our writerly minds may latch on to that story and start trying to figure out a way to ferret out a solution.

Topics for a story also come to us out of current events, as Dani Greer pointed out in her post last week I can Use This...about her Kindle Vella series.

However, for other novels, we may draw directly from our experiences or those of people we know.

For example, the story idea for my women's novel Play it Again, Sam came from a dreadful experience that a good friend lived through. She called me up one day to tell me that her husband of over twenty-five years had decided that he no longer wanted to be married. No warning. Not even a suspicion on her part. Just, wham!

The following, which is the opening of the book, came to me right after we hung up the phone that day. Some of it is based on the actual conversation she’d had with her husband the evening before when he'd dropped the bomb that blew up her world.

Sam’s breath caught in her throat and her voice broke, “John, you can’t be serious.”

“I’m sorry.”

“But a divorce! How can you...?”

He shifted his gaze, fingering the pages of a magazine on the counter. Watching the pages flutter with a soft whoosh, she saw life as she knew it slipping away.

“John! Talk to me.”

“Please. Don’t make this any harder-”

“What?” She didn’t even try to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. “I should make it easy? You walk in here and end our marriage as casually as... as...” Emotion choked her and she took an angry swipe at the tears searing her cheeks.

“I didn’t want it to be this way.”

Sam took a deep breath. “Then why is it happening?”

A long, thin silence followed.

“Is there someone else?” she asked, barely having the courage to hear the answer.


The denial came quickly. Too quickly?

“Don’t lie to me, John. Whatever you do, don’t lie.”

“I’m not. I swear.” He shifted his weight and looked away. “Then talk to me,” she implored. “Tell me how we reached this point and I didn’t even have a clue.”

“It just happened.” He glanced at her, then away again. “I don’t know. One day I just knew I wasn’t happy anymore.”

Sam stared in disbelief. He was having a mid-life crisis? They used to laugh at people who let their lives fall apart like this.

“That isn’t a reason. It’s an excuse,” she said. “There has to be something else.”

“I told you there isn’t.” John raised his head in defiance and their eyes locked until Sam felt her composure about to crumble. The deep brown eyes that used to melt her heart now chilled her. Everything about him seemed to be changing. The square jaw she used to find strong and attractive was now hard and unyielding. And when had his hair thinned to mere wisps?

Feeling like she’d entered some strange time-warp, Sam shook her head in an effort to bring back the real John. It didn’t work. A stranger still stood in front of her.

“It’s not your fault.”

His words focused her wandering mind.

“It’s me,” he continued. “I should have told you sooner. It was cruel to keep living a lie.”

Slowly, she sank into a nearby chair as a new wave of pain washed over her. Did he mean their whole life had been a lie? A game?


Writing is a way of processing feelings that are almost too strong to bear, and my friend’s anguish had triggered a similar anguish in me. We had been friends for a long time – couple to couple – sharing meals and evenings playing games. During the day when husbands were at work, my friend and I would often gather for fun time with our kids, or lunch out with other girlfriends. This couple was the last one I would ever have pegged for heading toward divorce.

So, I wrote. At first just to get through my feelings, but eventually I asked her if it would be okay to write a book about her experience, changing names and all that. She said, “yes” with one stipulation. She wanted to make sure that I would give her a happy ending.

I did.

The main reason that I was so driven to write her story was the heart-to-heart connection that we made over a course of several months, and numerous conversations, as she went through the difficulties of the divorce and beginning life as a single mother.

Thinking about it today, I realize that it’s that same kind of connection that we hope our readers will make to what we write; and I believe that it can only happen if it starts first with our heartfelt connection to a story.

It's the emotional journey that a character takes that makes a story so memorable. If people just do things, but those actions don't stir strong feelings, who cares?

It's my belief that what often compels us to write is something that not only stimulates our imaginations but also stirs our emotions.

I can't write a story unless that happens. What about you?

Maryann Miller is a novelist, editor, and sometimes an actress. She has written a number of mysteries, including the critically-acclaimed Seasons Mystery Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not writing, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk, work jigsaw puzzles, color, and quilt.



  1. Inspiration can come from the smallest things. Turning it into a full story with all the functioning parts is the hard part. I think most of us have about a thousand story nuggets written down somewhere. Sometimes it is fun to go back and look at them, maybe give one a second chance.

    1. So true about those nuggets, Diana. The ones that resonate are the ones worth a story, I think.

  2. So heartbreaking to see a friend go through this sort of misery. I hope your friend got her HEA!

    1. She did. Quite a few years later, but she got a great guy.

  3. What a compelling way to begin a story! As a reader, I'm already hooked. This is a book I want to read. I also loved that she found a great guy in the end. Hopefully, that's in the story, too.

  4. Wow, that's a heartbreaker of a conversation, and, as Linda says above, very compelling. Thanks for sharing, Maryann. Now, to go find your book....

  5. Great story opening, Maryann, but now I want to know if your friend's husband had another love interesting. Inquiring minds want to know.


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