It's WHO not WHAT that Determines a Good Idea for a Story by Patty Blount


"Where do you get your ideas?"

That's the question I'm most often asked. It's also the hardest to answer. Ideas are a source of frustration for me. I know lots of authors who have idea files whose contents far exceed the number of hours in their work day but for me, I work on one idea at a time. The downside is that sometimes, I can't write. Like 2018 was a famine for me. No books.



I had no ideas. Well -- I had one, but it didn't work.

I forgot my rule about ideas.

For me, good ideas, the ones I want to write, begin with a person, a character, rather than a situation or a concept.

Throughout 2018, I kept trying to write a book about breaking up, but that was a concept. It had no actors. Well, actually, it had too many. Was I writing about someone trying to do the breaking up or someone who'd been the unfortunate victim of a break-up? Two different stories. I kept trying out different actors, forcing them into that concept but it was too broad and lacked any cohesion. The result is a lot of wasted time doing the writing equivalent of a treadmill workout: lots of miles logged but having gone absolutely nowhere.

When the idea that strikes me starts out with WHO, I am instantly charged up and my brain starts firing all these potential situations.
  • SEND: the idea began with a bully regretting the stupid stunt that led to his classmate's suicide. He has to live with that knowledge for the rest of his life. What does that do to a child? This led to Dan, my hero. 
  • SOME BOYS: the idea began with a girl, a rape survivor, who some might say isn't so nice and may have 'asked for it' (words that immediately have me throwning down my gloves and ready to battle). How would she move beyond this trauma? She eventually became Grace, the protagonist. 
  • NOTHING LEFT TO BURN: the idea began with a boy who grew up knowing he was never his dad's favorite, but now is the only son left. How can he ever earn his father's respect? That second son became Reece. 
  • THE WAY IT HURTS: the idea began with a boy who'd do anything for fame because he believes fame is the answer to helping his special needs sister. How far is too far? Main character Elijah struggles with his answer. 
  • SOMEONE I USED TO KNOW: the idea began with a girl, also a rape survivor, who did everything right. She went to court and testified. She got a guilty verdict. So what happens next? How does she move on with her life? How does her family move on, especially her brother, whose participation in a misogynistic team activity contributed to his sister's assault? They became Ashley and Derek Lawrence, the dual narrators in this novel. 
  • NOBODY SAID IT'D BE EASY: the idea began when I saw a commercial showing a dad of daughters unafraid to wear nail polish because it makes his girls' smile. How did he grow into a man so secure in his masculinity? How does he manage being a single parent to four daughters? I created Gabriel out of these questions, a hero who still makes me swoon a full year after finishing his story. 

Starting with a WHO immediately makes the story more realistic and to me, more interesting, so this has become the litmus test of an idea's worthiness. The break-up story needs that WHO and when I find it, I'll write it. 

I'm currently working on a mystery that began when I saw the news about about a body uncovered in a basement that was later identified as the remains of the homeowner's grandfather, missing since the '60's. I immediately decided his wife put him in that basement and concluded she must have had a good reason. What could it have been? 

That prompted the idea that will soon be DON'T BELIEVE A WORD, book 1 in a series I'm planning. I'm about a third of the way through the first book and uncovering all the layers to this woman is just so damn fun, I find myself turning off the car radio just to have more time to think up more of those layers.

If you're a Game of Thrones fan, you may agree with me that the characters are what makes the series so interesting. Every character is both antagonist and protagonist at once. Except maybe Little Finger. Ewwwwww. 


  1. Replies
    1. I just read your two blogs, Holly and Patty, back to back. GMTA! Patty, apropos of your book idea about breaking up, I just saw a fascinating (and sometimes hilarious) exhibit at a museum in Santiago, Chile, about Sophie Calle. (It might help your idea along. Or not!) She received a breakup email from a guy, and in order to "understand" it better, she gave it to 107 women in the arts, law, psychiatry, etc., to analyze it. The guy was a narcissistic jerk, but 107 women explained why: in words, pictures, etc. If the breakup idea still interests you, you might Google it.


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