One of Isaac Asimov’s fellow writers once asked him where he got his ideas. He replied that he got them by thinking and thinking until he was ready to jump out a window – to the relief of his friend (who, I deduce, had the same problem).
And that’s how it can happen. It also happens in other ways.
Plot germs come to me at the oddest times. I have several files of speculations based on ideas that I had while reading, watching movies or television, or working. I don’t yet have the stories to go with them.
Here’s the tale of a plot germ that bore fruit. (Note: all the steps you will read did not happen one after the other. I often had to stop and think, backtrack, and edit.)
I wrote a fantasy/mystery called Justice for the Werewolf, that developed from a thought I had while reading The Werewolf Book by Brad Steiger. The latter book has a number of flaws, such as treating Hollywood fakelore as legitimate, but it was the fakelore that gave me the plot germ.
According to fakelore, pre-transformation werewolves see pentagrams on (depending on the writer) either themselves or on their next victim. And this thought wandered into my head: suppose the victims’ pentagrams lead the werewolf to them? The logical next thought was that someone cast the spell that marked the victim. From there, I got werewolf as the weapon used by an assassin.
As I thought about this, I decided that the werewolf should be (initially) unaware of the transformation or killing. She would be the unwitting victim of the curse that ruined her life.
Now, since this took place in a world where magic worked and gods are real, why wouldn’t people eventually realize there was a shape-changing hitman on the loose? Why wouldn’t the werewolf herself come to the same conclusion?
And why wouldn’t she go to the police and confess, or simply kill herself?
My answer was social change and technological development. Various types of spells and magical practices fell out of use when non-magical substitutes were invented and proved easier to use and maintain. The nation-state changed in other ways, leaving them less vulnerable to the sort of dangers that mages had protected them from. Eventually, the nation-state drew away from ‘unsophisticated’ neighboring states; the mages themselves stopped learning or studying now-irrelevant spells, and then the old grimoires were destroyed and historical events reinterpreted to remove anything not already attributed to the gods or to the now-accepted magics.
Now that I had my background, I needed the story.
My viewpoint character would be the werewolf. The story would be about her search for answers and about the effects of the curse on her. A second viewpoint character would be the detective searching for what everybody thought was the handler/owner of a trained wolf. He eventually becomes the werewolf’s ally. Their efforts converge to prove that she’s cursed and reveal those responsible. Rounding out the cast are a few mages, a crime boss, and a number of supporting players.
All of that originated with a thought sparked by an entry or two in a book.