"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis
Friday, June 4, 2010
As writers we are often asked where we get the ideas for our books. This question, more often than not, has left me at a loss for words until I realized that I've gleaned some terrific ideas from old movies, especially those of the 30's and 40's found on cable. However, confessing that a good movie can leach away my writing time can be embarrassing. But let's face it, where else can a person discover such a large range of juicy tidbits, one liners, gags, and plot ideas in a day except from TV?
Did you know that: if you want to shoot at a horseman riding downhill, you aim at his knee? For a time bobbies in England were called crushers? Adding nickel to gold will harden it? If an adult swallowed enough table salt, he could die of heart failure? (What a nifty way for an undesirable character to rid her/himself of a rival, especially if the victim is a fanatic on taking herbs in capsules. Someone could easily replaced the herbs with salt.)
Old movies are my downfall. I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning of I Was A Male War Bride starring Cary Grant. He marches into the heroine's office with an armload of clothes and dumps them on her desk. Their laundry gets mixed up, but he purposely gives everyone the idea that she's left her things in his apartment. The more she denies the implied accusation, the more he "tisks." What a cute scene! With a different setup, this could be a delicious way for the protagonists to meet, or to create friction, or it could be a means for them to see each other again and make up.
In Mazy in the Congo starring Ann Sothern, Mazy, a show girl, dresses up and convinces the attacking natives that she is a witch by doing simple magician's tricks, thus saving everyone. The locale could easily be changed to the early West and the natives to Indians. The heroine could be running a friend's traveling magic show when the scene unfolds. But why stop there? What if the heroine is actually using the show as a cover in order to dig up evidence that could clear her father of fraud, but the way she goes about it could send her to prison? What if the hero is sent out by Pinkerton Detective Agency to investigate the case and rumors pertaining to a certain young lady only to find...by golly, I think I've come up with another plot.
From the cop shows, I've found different ways to defraud people out of their money, learned what can spoil a good murder, and figured out how to set up clues. Thanks to the talk shows, I've gathered a wide range of scholarly nuggets from the molding of a serial killer and the psychological makeup of a schizophrenic, to split personalities and extreme life styles. All fodder for a good plot. There are other pluses! Have you ever copied down last names from the list of credits? Have you ever written descriptions of the actors--their personality quirks, facial expressions, the way they walked, talked, acted,--and put what you found on cards to file away? Or have you ever watched a movie and come up with a twist of your own? Well if you haven't, come on over. You bring the popcorn, I'll furnish the drinks. If anybody asks, we're doing research.
Sherry Roseberry won Idaho Writer of the Year with her first novel. Besides her historicals, she's the author of four plays, short stories, and articles. A dedicated thespian, she's given workshops on using acting techniques in writing at local, regional, and national conferences of Romance Writers of America. Her lifelong dream came true when she had the opportunity to appear in the movie, HANDCART. The experience was glorious even though the winter scenes were filmed in (average) 20-degree weather. Writing is in her blood, but her greatest treasures are her five children and nineteen grandchildren.