If you’re an author one question you get asked a heck of a lot is: “Where do you get your ideas from?” In fact, I’m always fascinated about the kernel of thought that germinated a story I liked too. My inspiration normally falls into one of three camps – either I get an idea for a character, or an idea for a conflict or situation, or I get an idea for where the story should be set (either a location or the story ‘world’).
Quite often that idea on its own isn’t enough. If I can pair that great character up with an interesting dilemma or put her in an exciting place, then I feel the story’s got legs and I can run with it. So, although I have tons of ideas scribbled down in my notebook for possible stories, the ones that tend to make it onto the page are the ones that have snowballed, where one idea has linked and merged with another.
Three Weddings And A Baby started with a situation. The heroine, Jennie, was a secondary character in Invitation To The Boss’s Ball, and she’d eloped to Las Vegas. I loved the idea of a whirlwind wedding, but before I commit to an idea I like to mess with its head, flip it about a little. What if, I thought, Jennie came home alone and she didn’t tell anyone she’d got married in a rush? Interesting. What could have happened to blast a marriage apart so quickly? And who would the hero be? Would he be the jilted husband or someone else? Since Jennie had appeared in a previous book, I already knew a little bit about her story world. The idea had legs! Yay! All I needed to do was pick up my pen and get going, right?
Well, that’s what I did. But I discovered having a pre-created story world for Jennie was actually more of a curse than a blessing. If I’d been writing the story from scratch, I’d probably have started it mere days after she’d done a runner from her honeymoon, but I was stuck with the timetable I’d given her in Invitation To The Boss’s Ball. I knew she’d been away for at least three weeks before she’d returned home to her family and that I wanted to start the story at her stepbrother’s wedding on New Year’s Day. This meant that the fight that had sent Jennie scampering from her honeymoon had to be a lot more than a ‘heat of the moment’ spat, and the hero had to have a really good reason for not coming after her immediately. Hmm.
The first version of the story involved an ex-wife who’d abducted the hero’s eight-year-old daughter and fled the country. I did acres of research on how this affected parents and children, both when they’d been separated and when they were reunited. I handed the book in and waited for my editor’s verdict. She loved the story but felt the child abduction storyline was a bit too gritty and the wrangling between the child’s parents took focus off the central romance at the end of the book. As much as I saw great potential in the subject matter, I realised she was right. It wasn’t that the story wasn’t a good idea, it was just that it wasn’t quite right for M&B in its present state. Cue revisions. Lots of them.
I kept some of the plot events, but the emotional undertones of every scene had to be either tweaked or completely changed. The finished story is quite different in places from the original, but I’m pleased with the result. It wasn’t the easiest book to write, however.
I think I learn something new and important with each book I write. This time round, I saw the dangers of investing in a gripping story idea that had limitations I’d already created for it. I like to tailor-make my plot and characters so they’re a perfect fit, but when linking books using secondary characters there isn’t always the same freedom to play God without upsetting the story physics of the world you’ve already created. I’m not saying I won’t do it again. Just that, next time, I’ll walk in with my eyes open!