Finding Inspiration in the Oddest Places

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by Connie Stevens

Writers are asked all the time, “Where do you get your ideas?” The answers vary based on the genre. Some might hear a news report about an unsolved murder or a case of corruption. Others might gaze at the stars and dream of futuristic possibilities. Still other authors may find a fascinating tidbit of trivia and allow their imagination to blossom. Have you ever overheard a conversation in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, or an airport, or a restaurant? People-watching can feed a writer’s imagination.

As a writer of historical fiction, I love to immerse myself in historical things. I sigh over stacks of dusty old books and smile with delight as I sort through baskets of vintage linens. I love looking at time-worn photographs and try to imagine the personality of the one pictured there. Hours slip away unnoticed as I browse through antique shops and the variety of items found there beg their own questions:

•Hmm, I wonder if the woman who used this old piece of crockery loved the man for whom she made biscuits, or was it merely a marriage of convenience?

•What was packed in this old trunk? Was it just clothing and personal items, or was some secret tucked away in the bottom?

•The woman in this old tintype has a look of resignation and despair in her eyes. I wonder what circumstances etched that expression.

•Who used these old tools? Was he a craftsman, laboring to provide for the needs of a family, or was he a loner? Were the tools-and the skills– passed down from one generation to the next? Did a youngster stand by his grandfather’s elbow and watch?

•What if the man who owned this fine, antique watch had to sell it in order to pay the mortgage or the taxes on his farm?

•How many babies slept in this heirloom cradle? How many of them survived to adulthood?

The last question was underscored recently as I toured a few cemeteries with some writer friends. I brushed my fingertips over grave markers that dated back more than a century and bore the names of infants who died-some a few months old, some lived only days. So many mothers grieved as death left them with empty arms.

Just across the way from these sad evidences of the infant mortality rate in the 19th century, carved granite headstones whispered the anguish of a divided nation that laid young men to rest way too early. One stone in particular had a stain down one side of it-as if some kind of acid or other abrasive or corroding substance dripped down its face. Tears, perhaps? Another stone indicated a wife outlived her husband by more than two decades. How did she shoulder the responsibilities of raising a family alone? How many stories languished under the sod in these lonely cemeteries with only wildflowers for companions?

A non-writer (in other words, a normal person) might think it incredibly strange to find inspiration for a story in a cemetery, or a piece of cracked pottery, or an old battered trunk. But these pieces of history are threads in the fabric of someone’s story. All it takes is a bit of imagination to coax that story to life.

Inspiration for story ideas is everywhere, and sometimes it sings to me in the oddest places.

Connie Stevens is a lover of history and an author of historical fiction. She’s been known to forget what time it is-and what century it is–while immersed in research. She has five titles published with Heartsong Presents, a sixth due to release in October, and a novella schedule to come out later this year. Connie and her husband of thirty-nine years live in north Georgia with one cantankerous kitty, misnamed Sweet Pea. Connie has been a member of ACFW for twelve years.
Visit Connie’s website at, and look for her on Facebook at

Comments 0

  1. I get a lot of my character names from cemeteries. I have always “haunted” these places of rest and wondered who they were and what their lives were about. Great post!

  2. Love this post. When I was a little girl I watched planes fly over my house and wondered about the people on them…where they were going, what kind of life they had. I still do that in the cars I meet or the ones driving along side of me.

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