Where do you get your story ideas from?
Having just finished my latest book, Starheart, I’ve been kicking stones and looking under bushes for the next story idea and I got to thinking; where do other people get their inspiration? Dark paths into an even darker wood? Things that go bump in the night? Beasties hidden behind bushes?
I well remember when I first came up with The Iron Admiral. I have a thing for men in uniform and I’ve had an abiding interest in military history so my leading man was going to be an officer. Since I was still working in the computer industry at the time, the idea of a heroine who is a computer expert was something of a no-brainer. I rather wanted my male MC to be a little bit older and very senior because while junior officers get to do all the derring-do, senior men have to make such very difficult decisions. Does he send a battalion here, knowing they’ll be decimated, but trading off the strategic advantage over there?
These decisions must be excruciatingly difficult to make, but it isn’t very sexy. Readers want action, excitement and, in a romance, both the hero and heroine together. Orson Scott Card, in his book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, cautions writers against having generals and admirals as the MC for that very reason. He cites James T. Kirk, Captain of the starship ‘Enterprise’, who went off exploring the different worlds the ship encountered. He makes the point that “any captain of a ship or commander of an army who behaved like Captain Kirk would be stripped of command for life.” So very true, so if I wanted to have an admiral as my MC, I would have to arrange things so he did have freedom to manoeuvre.
To come up with a plot, I turned to history. In 1939, Hitler was spoiling for a war. He and his generals were willing and ready, Hitler had signed a non-aggression pact with Stalin and the way to the East was open. He just needed an excuse. The West was still hoping diplomacy would work, British Prime Minister Chamberlain had triumphantly waved the 1938 Munich agreement as he landed back in London. If Hitler wanted his war, he would have to arrange for one. Accordingly, on 31st August, 1939, German operatives wearing Polish uniforms seized a radio station in Gleiwitz, a town just inside the German border, and broadcast an anti-German message in Polish. To make the attack look more convincing, the Gestapo dressed a known Polish sympathiser in the town in a Polish uniform and shot him. German tanks rolled into Poland on 1st September.
And that, dear reader, is how I came up with the outline of what has become The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy. As it happens, Starheart (which will be published next year) takes place in the same universe as the two Iron Admiral books. I’m thinking this next one, might, too. I have the germ of an idea…
How do you get inspired?