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Posted Friday, March 18, 2011, at 8:28 AM

One of the questions I'm asked most often is, "Where do you get your ideas?" At first it seemed an odd question, because ideas are everywhere. They're floating around, just waiting to be plucked from the air and put to good use. For me the question isn't where do I get my ideas so much as how will I ever have time to use all my ideas? (I won't.)

Read the newspapers. There are always interesting articles and columns there, any one of which could be the basis of an idea. Be observant. Watch the people around you. They're endlessly fascinating. Listen in on their conversations. Yes, that's called eavesdropping, but we're writers--we're forgiven the occasional transgression in the interest of creativity. A snippet of overheard conversation can lead to an idea for a book, or give you those quirky secondary characters you were seeking.

Airports are a particularly interesting place to people-watch. Everyone there is on a mission. They're either going somewhere, coming back, or are there to see someone off or greet them upon their return. Everyone has a story. Let your imagination go wild.

Read the classified ads. There are stories there, too, in very condensed form. I spotted a classified ad once that read, "Free. Refrigerator, fully stocked." I wondered, who gives away a refrigerator full of food? Or was it food? Frankly, if I hauled away a free refrigerator, I'd be pretty nervous about unwrapping that package of meat...

When I'm traveling I like to make note of the names of the towns I pass through. Eden and Hell are just 30 miles apart in Michigan. I wonder if Stephen King knows that. When driving in Nebraska I've noticed a sign for a town called Friend. Sounds like a nice place to visit, right? But I imagine the benign name as bait for unsuspecting travelers who find themselves lured in on a dark and stormy night...

You may have noticed my imagination tends to take a dark turn. Probably comes from growing up on episodes of The Twilight Zone and One Step Beyond.

Ideas, they're everywhere.

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." Albert Einstein

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Your blog makes me smile. I actually have a good friend that grew up in Friend, NE. :) And..I agree with you - ideas are everywhere! I have many ideas floating around in my head for more books. As you know, many of them come from my childhood or from things my girls do. I simply write what I know.

-- Posted by lesliemeans on Fri, Mar 18, 2011, at 2:19 PM

Like Leslie I grew up in a small community named, Cando, N.D.,

I've always assumed with imagination and work that 'can-do' becomes a reality working toward success. I observed the people in the Cando community subcribe to Can-Do with a positive attitude that is observed by others.

Does anyone know a community that has succeeded named, Fear?

Names influence our behavior, individually and wholly. -------Friend, NE. I like that.

-- Posted by wordgardener on Fri, Mar 18, 2011, at 4:39 PM

Ideas are everywhere, like leslie says,and I have new ones all the time, but how do I know which ones to use now? And what do I do with the ones I want to save for later?

And could your blog be in the paper edition of the paper too? My mother and aunt live in the Spencer area but don't like to read it on the computer, they'd rather read a column in the newspaper. (Old school - I'm trying to get them to catch up with the times.)

-- Posted by jjleighton on Mon, Mar 21, 2011, at 9:14 AM

How to know which ideas to use now?

Go with whichever ideas are speaking to you the loudest. There's sure to be one that stands out from the others, that seems most persistent.

You could, of course, be working on more than one idea at a time. I do. I usually have two or three projects going at any given time. However, if you're a beginner I recommend that you work on only one project at a time. Finish it, then go on to the next one. Sometimes just finishing a writing project is the hardest part - it's so easy to get distracted!- and if you scatter yourself too much you'll end up with a bunch of half-finished stories.

What do you do with the ideas you want to save for later?

Ah, that's where your Ideas File comes in. And that will be the subject of my next blog.

-- Posted by JTennant on Wed, Mar 23, 2011, at 7:25 PM

As far as this blog being in the print edition of the paper... the nature of a blog is that it's online, and while I realize that's not always convenient for everyone, it's probably easier on the blog-writer.

Right now my schedule is such that I don't know if I could commit to producing a weekly column. I'd hate to start something only to find I couldn't finish it on schedule, so please bear with me for now...and encourage your mother and aunt to give online reading another chance.

-- Posted by JTennant on Wed, Mar 23, 2011, at 7:36 PM

A town named Fear...I Googled it and came up only with Cape Fear. But it sounds like another story idea to me.

-- Posted by JTennant on Wed, Mar 23, 2011, at 7:37 PM

Can I use a real town in my novel, like Spirit Lake? What if people don't like it, can they sue me? I see New York and other cities used all the time in books, even though the characters are all made up.

-- Posted by farmergirl.sp on Thu, Mar 24, 2011, at 3:46 PM

Jean...Thank you for searching and finding Cape Fear.

I'll file the name for future use.

Cape Fear sounds so "dark and foggy and full of mystery." Wonderful.


-- Posted by wordgardener on Thu, Mar 24, 2011, at 8:43 PM

As far as using the name of a real town in a novel... go for it. Peter Davidson (Dave Peterson) of Arnolds Park did it with his novels "Okoboji" and "Murder in Okoboji." In his case he used real people as well, for the secondary characters. The hero and heroine of the stories were fictional.

But if you're going to depict a real town in a work of fiction in a very negative light, my choice would be to fictionalize the name of the town as well. While it's unlikely anyone would sue, why incur the wrath of the townspeople?

-- Posted by JTennant on Fri, Mar 25, 2011, at 8:23 AM

"Cape Fear" was also the name of a movie, made twice, with Robert Mitchum as the villain in the first version and Robert DeNiro in the second. It was a pretty good movie both times, and definitely creepy.

-- Posted by JTennant on Fri, Mar 25, 2011, at 8:27 AM

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Jean Tennant has been writing professionally for more than 30 years. Beginning with short stories, newspaper and magazine articles, she eventually branched out to full-length work, with several novels published by Warner Books, Kensington and Silhouette. Now the owner of Shapato Publishing, LLC, in Everly, Iowa, she teaches writers' workshops throughout the Midwest, for which her schedule can be seen at: www.jeantennant.com. Jean lives in Everly with her husband, Grover Reiser, and their dogs, Kirby and Dakota. Favorite quote: "Outside of a dog, man's best friend is a book. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx.
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