Fiction Fix Home Page

Current Issue

Contact us.

Article Archive

Writers' Guidelines


Privacy Statement



About the Writer:

Sue Raines is a freelance writer and playwright. Having turned her talents to crime and mystery writing Sue has found a niche in teaching the genre. Other works include articles, book reviews and short stories published in magazines and anthologies. A member of Partners in Crime Sydney, she is also an avid reader of crime and mystery fiction.


The Ideas Game
Sue Raines

Your Inspiration

Question: Where do ideas come from?

Answer: Everywhere.

This at first appears to be of little help to an aspiring writer facing a blank sheet of paper or an empty computer screen. Imagination is the key, relax and let your mind wander.

What if... You were driving, stopped in traffic and noticed a derelict bag lady pushing a shopping trolley loaded with all her possessions. What if... In talking to her you found she wasn’t a true bag lady at all, but someone rich and eccentric who believed her family want her killed so she disappeared and became a bag lady. Would your private investigator take on her case?


This is a process discovered in 1941 and it has been widely developed since. Used in both business and private organisations as well as by individuals, it is a technique most useful to a writer. The idea is ‘free thinking’ creatively to stop your judgment from jamming your imagination, giving your creative right brain a chance to have it’s say, free of the restriction of your editing left brain. The ground rules are simple. You start by posing a problem for which you require a creative solution. It maybe the need of a book title, or a way to get your protagonist out of a particularly tricky situation. Whatever the problem, you should spell it out as clearly as possible and focus on the result you need.

I need a title for my mystery story.

I need to get my female PI. Jemma off the roof of the apartment building, despite her fear of heights.

Brainstorming is best done in groups, but can be of benefit to a single person if they stick to the rules. Do not limit the result by editing, the more fanciful the answers the better, naturally some will be obvious answers but in the mix there will be a germ of an idea for you to use.

For example your list for getting Jemma out of trouble may include;

A Police rescue helicopter.

Abseiling [rapelling] down the building.

Confronting her attacker on the stairs and fighting her way down.

Hiding in ambush on the roof.

Climbing onto the next building’s roof to escape down their fire stairs.

Waiting for the enemy to arrive and just fighting it out. Not winning is not an option.

Her back-up arriving just in time and solving the problem.

The next door building catches on fire and the fire crew rescue her.

Can you come up with alternatives which are not on this list?

Acting Out Your Story

Look around you, if you are in a house how many exit doors are there? If someone came in the front door where would you hide? Could you escape, unseen through another exit? Try this with other venues as well.

Look closely at outside situations too. If you had to run and hide from where you are standing in a park or street, what options are there? Is the street opposite a dead end? Is there a flight of stairs up or down? How many people are passing, could you slip away in a crowd?

Planning your story can be fun, and without placing yourself in danger try out some situations your protagonist might need to make serious decisions on before your reader says “Never! that’s not possible!”

At all times your story has to be believable.

Real Life is Stranger Than Fiction

Newspapers and TV are a great source of ideas for a crime writer, the news is full of robberies, art exhibitions, bag snatchers, murders, police reports, drug busts, bank hold-ups, and similar.

Think of the people you know, the elderly aunt who refuses to use a bank and hides cash at home. The couple who fight when they come home from the bar or club. The man who is so ambitious for his son, who seems deliberately to work against his father and is always in trouble at school. The retired bank teller who, after 35 years didn’t achieve promotion to manager and was retrenched [let go]. Life is full of stories some sad, some cheerful. All could become characters in your story. All have a reason to create or commit a crime.

Play with Your Ideas and the Plots Will Come

Learn to play with ideas on people and surroundings. Your creativity will take time to develop, but soon you will learn to relax and let your imagination take over, adding colour and interest to your everyday walk through life. Carry a notebook and pen at all times to capture your ideas or scraps of conversation overheard. Don’t waste your dreams, keep a notebook beside your bed and jot down a dream sequence before you go back to sleep.

Writers are scavengers of ideas from life and situations other people would not notice. They eavesdrop on conversations in the street, in a train, in a restaurant. They take copious notes of other people’s pain and pleasure, constantly twisting and moulding fact into fiction.

People’s fears, hobbies, loves, passions, hates, occupations, beliefs, superstitions, culture, background, location and outlook on life are all fuel for the writer to analyse, play with, colour. A sense of humour is a great asset as well as the ability to see different points of view, while keeping an open mind. Most of all sifting through the many elements to see how they can be combined.

Plotting with Ideas.

Why do we need ideas? Today’s publishing world is a tough place.  Everyday magazines, publishers and producers receive thousands of ‘ideas’ in the form of short stories, novels, plays or articles, all seeking to be printed or performed. Alas only a very small proportion will ever reach success. Your idea has to be commercially viable and better than the rest meaning that it has to be creative, well written and eye-catching.

Remember there can be no plot until there is a crime. With your ideas system working you will probably end up with more ideas for crimes, characters and locations than you can use. This is not a problem but you do need to isolate the type of story you want to write and if the crime will be murder or theft or kidnapping etc. Maybe a combination of different crimes building to your climax.

Will your cast of characters include an amateur detective? A Professional? A gang ? An underworld crime family? A disbarred Solicitor? A surfie chick who has turned detective to clear a friend of drug charges?

Writers have so many choices. Make sure the right choice is the one that will sell. You need to plan your characters movements through the streets of the story. You need to plan your setting to be realistic. Don’t set the story in Chinatown if you have never been to that part of the city. Ideas are fine and there will be hundreds crowding in for attention but you need to control these and pick the very best. You will change your story many times and will use and discard many ideas. This is good, leading you towards a stronger plot and more interesting characters.

Keep the ideas flowing. Until next time when we will look at characters to populate your world of crime and mystery writing.

This article is the sole property of the author. It is produced here with the author's permission.  The unauthorized use or reprinting of an article is illegal, and will be prosecuted at the discretion of the author.