Where do writers get their ideas? Ideas grow from story seeds—those flickers of thoughts hidden in deep rich soil or even, sometimes, in plain sight. Small seeds that wait patiently for someone to discover them. While story seeds may take many shapes, they are often found in the form of questions. And questions, like dandelion seeds in springtime, are everywhere.  When writers search for the answers to questions, stories are born.

One of my favorite story seeds is the question, What if?  What if, might take the shape of, Wouldn’t it be strange or, What would happen if? My skin tingles, and my heart speeds when I stumble upon a small What if? seed. My excitement is heightened when the seed is sitting there, in plain sight, for anyone to see. A serendipitous discovery—a happy chance.

Take for example, my discovery of the tiny seed that grew into my first stand-alone novel, The Last Outrageous Woman.

Following a long career of teaching science, my mother retired to Florida, built a pastel-colored home on a golf course, and joined a ladies luncheon club.  The women gathered on the third Wednesday of every month to share a catered lunch and stories of the lives they’d lived before retirement—before Florida.  Mom’s group called themselves the Outrageous Women.  They were intelligent, curious, and adventurous individuals—eager to share and eager to learn.

During one of my yearly visits to the Sunshine State, mom took me to one of these luncheons.  We enjoyed a pleasant afternoon filled with stories, laughter, and mounds of strawberry shortcake that dripped whipped crème. 

Later, as the rays of the setting sun flooded mom’s fenced-in pool, we lounged on her patio, drank iced-tea and discussed our day.

“It’s sad,” mom said, “we started with fifteen outrageous women and now death has taken all but six.”

We sat quiet for a few moments until a faint voice whispered to me.  I mumbled—more to myself than to mom,

“Wouldn’t it be strange to the last outrageous woman?”

Bing! The seed poked up from hiding—voices filled my thoughts. They pushed and shoved and called out in loud clear tones,

“Listen to me!”

“I have a story to tell!”

These were the voices of women who’d waited patiently for this moment.  The voices of ladies who’d waited in silence until someone stumbled on their story seed. These were the voices of characters who’d waited  until someone asked, what if?

I had to excuse myself, race through the house to find a pad and pen and for the next two hours, I transcribed the voices in my head—scribbled furiously as their stories poured out. 

For the next year and a half those ladies stayed with me—sometimes whispering and sometimes shouting their stories.  They came to me in restaurants forcing me to fling money on the table and run to the car for my notebook and pen.  They would wake me at night—insist I listen to yet another adventure. There were times when I’d sit at my keyboard, eyes closed, typing what they shared and more than once, tears would streak down my cheeks as I heard their sad stories.  Just as many times, I found myself laughing out loud as I typed some predicament they’d blundered into.

I loved watching, and recording, the story that grew and blossomed from that one small seed.  I loved those ladies.  Still do.  But when they’d answered the question posed to them on that warm, Florida evening, they quietly slipped away and I was left with an answer, and a novel.

Story seeds. Questions.  What if?  What would happen if?  Wouldn’t it be strange if?  These are some of questions that lead writers on a search for answers—answers that grow into stories.

Ask yourself, What if?  And then, run—as fast as you can—to grab your paper and pen as you hear the whispered answer.  Write out the question, write out the answer.  And share it here, in the comments.  I’ll wait. Patiently.

Ciao-

Jes

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