I have been asked where I get the ideas from when I am writing. What is it that first prompts an idea and how does that develop into a plot and story lines? I cannot answer for anyone else’s thought process but from my prospective the ideas come from my imagination and experiences. That is an obvious answer. Where else could the ideas come from? Experience can take many forms: work; family; life; chance meetings and fleeting glances. All these things come together. Day-dreaming about something and finding yourself wandering off on a tangent, we all do it.
For The Picture the obvious plot device is the titular photo. That, for this novel, was the first thing and from which the whole story line developed on either side of that moment. In reality it was a completely unimportant moment and unrelated to what it would become. I was standing one morning on my back porch, which leads out onto a courtyard. It was a cold day, overcast and gray, and I was standing drinking coffee, looking at nothing in particular wondering what the day would bring. It wasn’t any sort of eureka moment but a crack in the clouds which allowed a beam of sunlight, tightly focussed into a small area, to shine down. It was so small in the courtyard, about two feet round, but I straight away thought of a spotlight, then dismissed that as too artificial and accepted the moment for what it was. Literally, a little ray of sunshine.
But it was a spotlight, albeit a natural one, and I imagined it beaming down onto someone. How or why was that significant? Who? Lovers, so, two people or maybe death? Suddenly the options were endless. I cannot describe the exact process but within a minute I had a clear picture in my mind of what The Picture was, the circumstances under which the characters had arrived at the situation that they were in. I think the fact that it happened in the courtyard helped because it gave the developing scene a frame and dimensions. It restricted the size of the event allowing me to develop a thought around a distinct event. It was not a manufactured moment it was a purely random event and maybe, on another day, I might have shrugged and gone back inside for another coffee and missed the chance altogether.
I suppose the real lesson for me, although I have never had a problem doing this, is to just let your imagination take over and go with it. Usually it ends nowhere, sometimes a half thought out idea can be filed away to be reinvented another day, but sometimes a small event occurs and within a few minutes the whole story is mapped out in your mind.
Now you only have to get it down on the page.